Heads of bone...

One of the essential spiritual disciplines for me (and I suspect for most of us if we allowed ourselves the time) is solitude. Without a significant time of quiet reflection, rest and honest confession, I miss what that still small voice of the Lord is trying to say. I become testy and obsessively self-centered. And no earthly good for myself or those I cherish. Thankfully, in anticipation of my father's memorial service, we built in a brief retreat from our ordinary activities, so that we might be fully present to others and ourselves.

For about three weeks I have been wrestling with what I might say at this memorial service. Last Sunday, as we were driving down to Maryland from Massachusetts, I heard a song that grabbed me - I knew instantly it was right - but I didn't know why. So for eight days I've let it swim around inside me as I practice playing it, trusting that in time the deeper truths will become clear.

This often happens to me with music: I hear an oblique or alternative reading of a spiritual truth within a contemporary song that "fits" the feel of a Bible passage or liturgical event, but isn't obvious to others in a linear sense. For years I simply pushed through their resistance claiming, "this is poetry, god dammit, figure it out for yourselves!" And while I still believe that the interface between art and worship need not be over analyzed - it is after all, a way of entering the mystery of grace, suffering, beauty and truth all at the same time - the least I can do is offer a clear invitation to the feast, yes? 

You see, for many the mystical path has been absent and/or denigrated in our churches for generations. What's more, for at least the past three generations the fundamental working metaphor in our culture has been the financial bottom line. Many of us, it seems to me, have come to embody the ancient prophetic words of Amos 8:  "The days are coming when there will be a famine in the land, but not for bread, nor a thirst for water but for hearing the words of the Lord." Like Eugene Peterson makes clear in his advice to pastors, because our culture has desensitized our people, our work must take on the challenge of the Psalmist who prays to the Lord to help drill a hearing canal into his head of bone. Peterson writes about Psalm 40:

It is a hearing psalm - the need to be heard - and the need to hear... but all too often conventional hearing and ritual get in the way of this hearing. "Sacrifice and offering you did not desire - but my ears you have opened..." Literally the line goes "You dug ears for me." (The image is) a human head with no ears. A blockhead. Eyes, nose and mouth but no ears... only granite bone. God speaks. No response." (Working the Angles)

First the Psalmist needs God's intervention for him/herself to hear a new song;
then the artist can share the revelation with conviction. So invitations and clear explanations - as well as out of the box songs and art - can be both an act of grace and a chance to hear the word of the Lord beyond the din of habit, addict or empty ritual. But like Dylan said, "I need to know my song well before I start singing it." I need to know WHY it breaks through my own bone head before I can offer it as a gift to the Lord in the presence of God's people. So, I've been struggling and listening fiercely for how I might share a word of the Lord in the context of this song.  

Last night, after a long drive and some quiet time, with Di falling asleep I began to "hear" what might need to be said at this memorial service. As I walk about today, I'll let my hunch percolate and then simmer. I am so grateful we have set aside this time.

I waited patiently for the Lord;
   he inclined to me and heard my cry. 
He drew me up from the desolate pit,
   out of the miry bog,
and set my feet upon a rock,
   making my steps secure. 
He put a new song in my mouth,
   a song of praise to our God.
Many will see and fear,
   and put their trust in the Lord
Happy are those who make
   the Lord their trust,
who do not turn to the proud,
   to those who go astray after false gods. 
You have multiplied, O Lord my God,
   your wondrous deeds and your thoughts towards us;
   none can compare with you.
Were I to proclaim and tell of them,
   they would be more than can be counted. 
Sacrifice and offering you do not desire,
   but you have given me an open ear.
Burnt-offering and sin-offering
   you have not required. 
Then I said, ‘Here I am;
   in the scroll of the book it is written of me.
I delight to do your will, O my God;
   your law is within my heart.’
photo credits: Dianne De Mott

Comments

Peter said…
I know that street, having walked her Lucie-ness along it. And time and again, I have heard such songs as you describe. May the Grace gently touch you as you "learn" it.
RJ said…
You brighten my day... love.
ddl said…
Can I just write that I admire and wish to emulate the conveyed tenderness (for lack of a better word) in your blog posts for others, and yourself and Di....and the tenderness expressed in friendship betw. Peter and yourself. Brothers, this is no small thing, as you well know. And this is what I mean. The tenderness...never to be taken for granted.
Blessings to all of you...and continued prayers in your grieving and celebration.
RJ said…
So grateful to hear from you ddl...and blessed. Thank you.

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