Hidden Gems

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When I started studying music, I was completely blown away by music theory. At last, I had language for the intricacies and craftsmanship and joy that I sensed was there. Many of my classmates were bored stiff by classes in form and analysis, but not me.

Music theory is basically the math of music: a system that allows the organization or structure to make itself known. It can function on the micro and macro level—reducing complex music to just a few notes (Schenkerian analysis) or charting a pattern of every individual note and their order (Serialsim). As I gained more knowledge of the design, I loved it all the more... but the amazing thing was that the music was “good” whether you understood all that was happening within it or not. 

Here’s the amazing part—in my opinion, the best composers were the ones who broke the “rules.” It was music theory that helped me put a name to the spirit of revolution I heard in Beethoven’s 3rd Symphony...because, just one example of his rule-breaking, the coda (the extra added part at the end of a piece) is almost just as long as the main section or the exposition. It was understanding Mozart’s abilities to turn the key relationships in sonata form on their head that confirmed his genius in my eyes. Understanding the language within and giggling at a composer’s deviation from the expected—it made me feel like I was in cahoots with them.

These turns of form or harmonic surprises were like gems that Mozart or Beethoven had left just for me inside the deep rocks of their scores. It was a message in a bottle, centuries old, waiting there in those dusty libraries for me to find it. 

I often wondered if God feels this way about creation. The master artist, God created this world and within it are all its secrets. Below our feet, way down in the dirt are the colorful and yummy vegetables. Crack open that brown rough exterior and find a delicious coconut. The cure for cancer, in some combination of materials, is waiting as the scientists furiously labor to find it. And whether you understand the intraciticies of creation, God deemed it “good.”

I like to think that God delights in watching us discover the wonders of creation, that God might cheer us along as we giggle and gasp at its beauty.

This week, while reading Psalm 115 (I confess, a psalm I was not familiar with) I came to verse 16 and it stopped me in my tracks: The highest heavens belong to the Lord, but the earth he has given to mankind.” I had forgotten to think of our planet as a gift... instead of something I have a right to. There are lots of instances where the scriptures talk about the earth being God’s...but I like this verse about it being ours, and given to us as a gift. 

What a great gift. It not only sustains us with everything we need, but goes way beyond the utilitarian. God didn’t have to make SO many flowers in SO many colors, but God did. God didn’t have to make mountain ranges underneath the ocean bigger than the ones on land, waiting down there for the fish to enjoy, but God did. God didn’t have to make us be able to fall in love, to have the intellect to contemplate a higher power, but God did. God made us to eat, and didn’t have to make food delicious, but God did. To me, that’s proof that God loves us and wants us to be happy. This gift given to us is lavish and extravagant. Anyone who gives a gift like that is clearly in love with the recipient.

And we all know that we don’t do a great job of taking care of this gift. But even when the oceans are filling with plastic, and animals are held in captivity to avoid their extinction, even when we raise weapons against each other, God hasn’t given up on us.

And just like Mozart or Beethoven or any great composer, just when we least expect it, God breaks the rules of the apparent theory. Hidden in history, Jesus (God himself) breaks into creation, to answer our questions about the giver, to save us from ourselves, and to begin the process of repairing all the damage that’s been done. And by God’s grace, we continue His work of uncovering all that is hidden within this gift that is our planet.

Speak to, speak through

Psalm 100
Shout for joy to the Lord, all the earth.
Worship the Lord with gladness;
come before him with joyful songs.
Know that the Lord is God.
It is he who made us, and we are his;
we are his people, the sheep of his pasture.
Enter his gates with thanksgiving
and his courts with praise;
give thanks to him and praise his name.
For the Lord is good and his love endures forever;
his faithfulness continues through all generations
.

Last weekend Edwin, Eva Ruth, and I traveled to Bloomfield Hills, Michigan to Kirk in the Hills Presbyterian Church. Our friend Nate Phillips is the pastor there and invited Edwin to preach in a series they are doing called "The Future Church." I came along and played oboe. 

This church is something to see—a spectacular example of Gothic architecture, surrounded by lakes and green gardens.

 Photo cred: Dale Carlson

Photo cred: Dale Carlson

Playing or singing in worship was always something I "enjoyed." I put that in quotes in hopes to conveying the condescension with which I approached these musical appearances until recently. Basically, they were all about me. If I'm honest, deep down I think I felt, "I'm doing these people a favor by playing some pretty oboe for them as part of their service. Aren't they lucky!" This seems so sad to me now, but it's true. Even though I grew up making music in worship, somehow the switch got flipped and I started performing rather than attempting to have a spiritual experience myself. In my defense, it’s very hard, because most of the time when I’m playing anywhere, even in church, my mind is racing--calculating the rhythm and the pitch and adjusting instantaneously, while attempting to sing through a phrase, breathe, support, play the right notes...etc. This is the mind of a musician. It’s something I’ve been working on, mindful music-making. And so, it still surprises me when I encounter the spiritual while making music in church. (Imagine that, finding God in a church!) But this Sunday at “The Kirk” in spite of the hectic travel the day before and the sleepless 6-month-old, I tapped into that “flow” that Julia Cameron talks about in the Artist’s Way

The second service was held out in the garden, just off the sanctuary, and the organist and I played the prelude from inside by ourselves. The moment had this amazingly private and personal feeling. Since I was playing Morricone's Gabriel’s Oboe, a simple piece I play from memory and have performed MANY times, I decided to make this rendition a prayer. I stood in the empty sanctuary, sang my heart out through my oboe.    

 Photo Cred: Dale Carlson

Photo Cred: Dale Carlson

It felt like that mystery in the smoke and smell of incense. It felt like a conversation. It felt like joy. For me, it reverberated beyond the walls of that church, not because of my playing (I was so unaware of it, I must say, I don’t totally know how I sounded) but because of all the beauty in that place.  

The cane I used to make my reed was grown in France, and the dryness or wetness of that year’s season was in my sound. The sun and the stars of that beautiful place and the beautiful hands that harvested the cane, those that made my oboe, that labored for the perfection of that cathedral—all that beauty was resonating, sympathetic vibrations. It felt effortless, transcendent.

I believe that beauty is the language God speaks. Sacred or secular art, inside a Gothic cathedral or a dingy practice room, when we experience or make beauty we are connected to the divine. God spoke the world into creation--a master artist, making beautiful things out of dust. I don't always do as the Psalmist says... "enter his gates with thanksgiving and praise." Instead, I enter his gates with tiredness and busyness. I didn't realize that coming with thanksgiving and praise would lead to an encounter with beauty, and an experience of joy so deep it could make my heart burst. "For the Lord is good and his love endures forever," indeed.

So what was my prayer last Sunday morning as I played in that empty cathedral? It was a simple one, one that it is becoming my mantra. 

Lord, speak to me. Lord, speak through me. 

 

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Ari, Nate and Lucy Phillips with Edwin, Eva Ruth and me. Not pictured: Grace, Lily, and Max.

You aren’t ________ enough.

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This week I taught an oboe lesson to a promising young student who had just graduated with his bachelor’s in music from a great school. In the final moments of the lesson, I was asking him what his plans were long term, in regards to his career. We had worked on orchestral excerpts during the lesson and I was curious if he was planning on taking auditions. He sighed. He mentioned that he wasn’t sure what he wanted—“Part of me thinks it’d be fine going the public-school-teaching route because I like kids and it is safe and secure... and another huge part of me wants my whole life to be oboe.” He paused and looked at his feet. “And that’s when I start to consider whether or not I’m good enough.”

I had heard this many times...students wanting to know if they were “good enough.” I usually try to find a way to encourage them without engaging in that particular line of questioning. What does “good enough” even mean? In my experience, this conversation inhibits real work from getting done.

As I left that lesson, I started noticing how many conversations I have with myself on a daily basis about my acceptability. I choose my outfit, and depending on the size of my jeans I feel thin enough or not. I make a phone call or write a text and wonder if the way I said something came across wrong, and I wonder if I’m likeable enough or not. I share an idea with a friend and based on her reaction I am either creative enough or not. It’s exhausting...the constant judging and verdict making.

The Bible is always talking about “righteousness.” That word makes me squirm, and I’ve never totally known why. Merriam Webster describes it as “acting in accord with divine or moral law, free from guilt or sin” and suddenly I understand why it makes me so uncomfortable. When I look at how I measure up to God’s divine law, I swing from feeling like I’m not that bad to feeling like I am most definitely not good enough. 

And almost right on cue...one of the Psalms this week talked about the righteousness— “The righteous will flourish like a palm tree, they will grow like a cedar of Lebanon” (Psalm 92:12)

The Cedar of Lebanon has a rich history, I’ve just recently learned. It can grow up to 120 feet tall and 8 feet wide, and it was apparently the lumber used by Solomon to build the temple. And here’s the best part—there’s a Cedar of Lebanon practically in our backyard. At the Wilmington & Brandywine Cemetery right around the corner from the church, stands one at the entrance, brought from the Holy Land from the cemetery’s founding director in 1850.  This is the tree you see at the top of this post. I wonder if bringing this tree back and planting it in that cemetery next to his lost loved ones made James Canby feel righteous.

I started thinking today, as I drove past that righteous Cedar of Lebanon...I think it was the trees’ proximity to God that made it righteous. After all, verse 13 of Psalm 92 reads “planted in the house of the Lord, they will flourish in the courts of our God.” It was nothing they were in and of themselves that made them righteous. And so it is with us. It is Jesus that makes us good enough. And how do we come to find him? Following David’s way, we find Jesus through prayer. And we go to the cedar trees of this world, ordinary things deemed holy by association, we seek the mysterious Spirit. 

Standing under the massive trees of the world, the verdict is in, we aren’t good enough. We aren’t beautiful enough or kind or creative enough.  But there’s something better than being good... being loved... more than enough. And that’s good news.

 

 

“For the Director of Music”

 King David, Artist Unknown

King David, Artist Unknown

Last evening, I attended a dinner for the choirs at Grace Church and their families. It was a gathering in honor of Dr. Neil Harmon, Grace’s director of music for the last 19 years (!), who will be leaving us in a matter of weeks. As we gathered last night, I kept thinking about all the people that have been blessed by Neil’s work. It’s rare to find someone who is equally gifted at all aspects of this type of job—choral conducting, handbells, composing, keyboard playing, working with children—Neil does it all with grace and skill. His humility and kindness are icing on the cake. He will be dearly missed, to say the least.

As we prepare for Neil’s departure and as I read and reread the inscription “For the Director of Music” at the front of so many Psalms these days, I can’t help but think about the role of music in the church and therefore the role of the musician in the church. 

Music has the power to deepen faith, to draw us to God.

Some of my earliest musical memories were singing in the children’s choir with Mrs. Judy at Main Street United Methodist Church in Abbeville, South Carolina. My siblings and I later started violin lessons through folks connected to church too, and so I guess you could say my musical life began there. Those musicians made an inexplicable difference in my life. They changed my life’s entire course, in fact. Music was also my entry point into faith, and as I type that, I realize how holy the ground on which we stand is, as we participate in musical offerings on Sunday mornings. What a responsibility—to use our gifts and talents for something so beyond ourselves. It’s almost a miracle, how we musicians are afforded the privilege to help others worship God...in spite of ourselves.

With music’s power, I see how it would be easy to worship the music or the musician instead of their Maker. And that is dangerous, because, as I learned in music school, some of the most heavenly sacred music was written by people who weren’t the most pious. (Bach being the exception of course!) If you’ve seen the movie Amadeus, you’ve gotten a glimpse into the life of Mozart, the composer of the divinely inspired Ave Verum Corpus, K. 618. Even David, the author of so many of the Psalms, was far from perfect. AND YET, God used them. God blessed them even though they didn’t deserve it, and God uses them to bless us. I am so grateful that in spite of our imperfections, we are given musical gifts we can use to God’s glory. 

Neil’s ministry at Grace has been a testament to his faith and we are so grateful for his service. And yet, we know that the ways he’s blessed us will not fade after his departure. There is something he leaves behind that will continue to resonate throughout our beautiful sanctuary—he’s reminded us to humbly use our talents to praise God, lift up others, and sing in joy and thanksgiving for all we’ve been given.  

Neil, we’ll miss you, and we will continue to “sing and make music in your heart to the Lord” (Ephesians 5:19) as you have taught us. Thank you for helping us discover and develop our talents.

 “Let all that has breath, Praise the Lord” (Psalm 150.) 

 

Vulnerable + Resilient

 Photo cred—Bristol Physical Theatre Project

Photo cred—Bristol Physical Theatre Project

First a story, as told to me by one of Lincoln Center’s master teaching artists, Jean Taylor:

Jean and her colleague were teaching a young group of children and one of them stood out immediately. While most of the kids (around 4-6 years old I think*) wore simple leotards or shorts, Bethany was dressed in what can be best described as an elaborate tutu...complete with a huge bow on her head. The layers of tulle extended almost beyond her wing span.

All was well in the class until Bethany announces she needs to use the bathroom. She was gone for quite some time, and so Jean goes to check on her. Just as she was about to knock, thankfully, Bethany came out.

The sight that Jean beheld was really something. Bethany had taken the outfit off and had put it back on inside out. The back of the tutu was completely crammed inside and looked lumpy around her backside. She had pulled part of the tutu out of the leg holes on both sides in an effort to make things right. Her bow had navigated down the side of her head and was completely lopsided. 

She looked up at Jean as she walked hurriedly past her and said with a smile, “It’s the best I could do!” And then trotted happily back to class.

I laughed out loud when Jean shared this with our group this week. We all did! Perhaps because my mother used to adorn my head with bows, so I could feel Bethany’s pain...or maybe because this kind of attitude teaches us something deep about vulnerability and resilience.

Jean shared it as part of a workshop for teaching artists in clowning. Yes, you read that right...how to be a clown. (Think less circus-clown and more Italian masked theatre.) This type of acting is taught in conservatories as a way for actors to develop movement, improvisation, and character. We actually wore noses and participated in an exercise called “eccentric dance.” (Thankfully there is no video evidence of this!)

Bethany and the clowns we all let loose in our class remind us that vulnerability and resilience go together— in teaching, learning and living. When you’re vulnerable and authentic enough to be known...to show up in your fabulous tutu when everyone else is in shorts...only when you are bringing your authentic self... can you really create, learn, and grow. And when you’re resilient enough to bounce back in the face of disappointment and hardship (pull that tutu out through the leg holes and embrace your ridiculousness!)—then we can find the wonder and joy that are available to us. 

As I return again to the Psalms each day, I realize the Psalmists have this vulnerability + resilience recipe down pat. In Psalm 66:20 the psalmist even mentions that fear of rejection— Praise be to God, who has not rejected my prayer or withheld his love from me!”

And as we’ve seen all summer, these prayers hold nothing back. In many of the lament Psalms, it isn’t clear on what timeline (or sometimes even if) God has answered (Psalm 4, 13, 88). We’ve forgotten how to be vulnerable so magnificently that now there are classes where we learn how to be clowns. 

This is one of the things I find most compelling about Christianity. The Psalms are pointing to true vulnerability and resilience—found only in God Himself, in Jesus. Vulnerable enough to weep and bleed and resilient enough to persevere in the face of death...all out of love for us.

What are you holding back in your interactions with God or others? Or is it resilience that you lack? When you’re faced with hardship how do you respond? How can you embrace and celebrate your ridiculousness today? I’ve got a red nose you can borrow, if you need one.

 

*this story was shared with me via word-of-mouth this week at LCE Summer Forum in NYC— pardon any missed or inaccurate details! 

“You have collected all my tears in your bottle.”

 “Lincoln Square Fountain” Photo cred: Adrianna Kheat

“Lincoln Square Fountain” Photo cred: Adrianna Kheat

This week I’ve had the distinct pleasure to be part of Lincoln Center Education’s Summer Forum: a gathering of artists and educators from all over the world. We have discussed “the why” of what we do, explored arts advocacy, and developed our teaching artist practice amidst inspiring keynote speakers, energizing performances, and meaningful conversations... all with my favorite city as the backdrop. This time always fills my cup. It reminds me of the power of the arts to deepen our faith, connect us with people, and change the landscape of our world.

Though this is an arts education workshop, I was not surprised at how quickly the conversation turned to the spiritual. 

We began day 1 with an exercise that I’m still thinking about. The facilitator asked each participant to share who raised them, and then who raised those who raised them. My first thought was “OK, my parents raised me. And their parents raised them. Simple enough.” But she encouraged us to interpret it in any way we wanted. The stories that poured out were incredible. 

There was a young man who was raised by a deaf single dad. 

There was an older woman who said her adopted daughter raised her

People were raised by the family’s single survivor of the holocaust, the school of hard knocks, the City of New Orleans.   

This small exercise made me realize, suddenly and beautifully, how there were abundant stories in the room with me: stories that have been passed down, stories we believe about ourselves that aren’t true or complete, stories that we are still living into. I saw everyone so differently after they spoke. No matter our age or experience, we were all asking questions about our histories as we told them. Our artistic practice was not only part of our story, but a way of working out these stories’ meanings.

A few days later, in our daily Psalm reading practice, I came to Psalm 56:8: “You keep track of all my sorrows. You have collected all my tears in your bottle. You have recorded each one in your book.” (New Living Translation) 

God as historian, archivist, anthropologist, and curator of our pain...

It leaves me asking, why the bottle? What does God plan on doing with all those tears?  I want to believe God takes them in order to create something beautiful. God is always an artist in my eyes.

It can feel burdensome to carry all my stories around, and I sensed that from my new friends at Lincoln Center, too. There was something freeing and beautiful about that moment of releasing them into someone else’s care during that exercise.  To share your story is to be seen and to be known. This Psalm reminds us that God is coming behind us to collect the tears, and this ultimate act of listening, making space for story—that’s what we can do as artists and educators and friends.

I walk around NYC each morning and evening after class and enjoy the commute differently, now. As all the stories rush past me, as all the stories cram into the subway car, as all the stories eat and sleep and work in this pulsating place, I can rest in the knowledge that each made in God’s image, they are seen and known and loved by God, and in this act of collecting tears, he’s calling me to love them too. 

For Your Eyes Only

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Have you ever read someone else’s diary? I’m no snooper, myself. I always err on the side of “less is more” when someone’s personal information is concerned.

When I was young I was a avid journal-er. I wrote daily from age 14 or 15 until I went to college. I still have all the notebooks from those days—spoiler alert: they’re pretty boring! Whenever I have gone back and read them, I can’t help but recoil with a cring. It feels like I’m reading someone else’s most personal thoughts...someone young and silly. I look back on the things I said or thought with intense eye-rolling, embarrassment, pity and even disgust! How could I have been so upset about that? Why couldn’t I see how things really were? If only “present Merideth” could go back to “past Merideth” and straighten her out! 

Upon praying the Psalms this summer, it strikes me again how painfully personal they are. Like Psalm 6: 6 says, “I am worn out from my groaning./ All night long I flood my bed with weeping/ and drench my couch with tears.” The lament Psalms feel like I’m spying on someone at their weakest. It takes a lot not to look away.

Psalm 22 is particularly painful.

           1 My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?
                      Why are you so far from saving me,
                       so far from my cries of anguish?
           2 My God, I cry out by day, but you do not answer,
                       by night, but I find no rest.

That first verse and I have a little history.

When considering the cruxificition as a young person, I remember learning of Jesus saying those words “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” And at the time, I felt they were proof that Jesus wasn’t who he said he was. He was admiting that he was forsaken by God and therefore he wasn’t God and that this whole “dying for our sins” thing was regrettable. 

That verse burned. I felt like Jesus had given up. For years, I harbored doubt and disappointment. 

Fast forward many years later to when I found out Jesus was actually quoting scripture with those words... and there was more to his message. I remember running home to my New York City apartment to read the rest of it. Looking back, I realize I could have looked up the Psalm easily on my iPhone, but somehow that didn’t occur to me. I wanted to read it from the physical book. 

Like a message in a bottle, sent across time, Psalm 22 was a treasure unearthed, seemingly just for me.  

And there it had been all along. David (or the Psalmist’s) most personal words, true about David and true for Jesus on the cross. Jesus’s life, death, and resurrection reverberating throughout history. This must be how a human’s painful prayer becomes the Word of God. 

I would post the entire Psalm here, but I urge you to go pick up a physical Bible and read it.

Sometimes scripture doesn’t mean exactly what we think it means.

It takes courage and humility to say that. I pray for more understanding, patience, and faith for me and all of us, in that process of wrestling with these questions. And just as I was when I first “read” Psalm 22: today, I am so very thankful that “He has done it!” 

 

The Psalms make me uncomfortable

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“Summer in the Psalms” sounded so idyllic. Praying from the Bible every morning and night! What comfort and joy it would bring me during the relaxing summer months...or so I thought.  

I was ashamed at first how uncomfortable this practice has made me.

Sure, there were the amazing scriptures that appeared in the daily readings just when I needed them,—like “The Lord is my light and my salvation—whom shall I fear?” (Psalm 27:1, NIV) or Psalm 23 (which I still remember reciting in the King James every night before bed when I stayed with my grandmother.) These were like a soothing balm to my anxieties and daily wear and tear.

But SO many other verses left me with a pit in my stomach. For example, “The Lord preserves those who are true to him, but the proud he pays back in full.” (Psalm 31:23, NIV)

It leaves me wondering, first of all, if I am “true” to him. Also, what exactly does “pay back in full” mean? And what about those people who think they are being true but aren’t? 

The plethora of Psalms that ask God to destroy enemies (Psalm 17, 35, 64...to name a few.) leave me asking: is God just an angry old guy up in the sky who comes down and wipes people out? 

And lastly, there was the verse that really left me worried: “Therefore let all the faithful pray to you while you may be found” (Psalm 32:6, NIV)

This seemed particularly doomsday. Is there a time when God may not be found? Is that now? Would he really shun the unfaithful so that he won’t even hear their prayers anymore? Suddenly, my idyllic summer reading has left me with more questions than comfort or joy.

This practice of reading the Psalms every morning and night is teaching me many things, but most notably—

1. How small my Image of God is.

2. How privileged my world view is. 

I imagine God as an non-violent, unstoppable force, and source for good in the world, who, quite coincedentilly, sees the world more or less the way I do. Lots of writers have written at length about the problematic violence in the Old Testament, and being far from a scholar on the subject, I’ll skip a thesis about that. (Although, I would recommend checking out Greg Boyd’s books “Crucifixion of a Warrior God” and “Cross Vision: How the Crucifixion of Jesus Make Sense of Old Testament Violence”... and these books’ reviews, if you’d like to get in on the debate around this topic!) Wherever you stand on this subject, I think it is easy to blame God for all the violence and terror of that day and now, or at the very least, to blame God for not intervening. Yet, my take-away today is to keep struggling with these difficult questions, instead of avoiding the parts of the Bible that I don’t like. How small my image of God is! I make God out to be just who I think I need, instead of seeking to actually discover who he is. “For the word of the Lord is right and true; he is faithful in all he does. The Lord loves righteousness and justice; the earth is full of his unfailing love. (Psalm 33:4-5, NIV) Do I really believe that God is faithful in ALL he does? If I really believed that, how would my life be different? Instead of discarding the parts of the Bible I don’t like and giving up on Christianity because I take issue with this or that, why not lean in to these questions? The God that David describes and speaks to in the Psalms, that God can take it.

Lastly, this practice has shown me how privileged my world view is. Having never known real violence or desolation, having never had real enemies threaten my or my loved one’s lives...I haven’t really been “poor enough in spirit” (Matthew 5:3) to understand these prayers of David, to need God like he does. This practice is helping me widen my lens with which I see myself, God and others.

As I read David’s personal prayer journal each morning and night, I’m in awe of how God is his lifeline. How honest David is about his fears and anger, how he seeks God even (and especially) in those moments of desperation....and on top of it all, he SINGS to God about it. He uses music to connect to the divine and he holds nothing back—that’s something I can understand.

Maybe these Psalms say more about how we can pray than anything else.

I don’t know about you, but I don’t talk to God like that. And yet, I am so thankful that we are given permission, so to speak, to be honest with God, through the Psalms. I am so thankful that God meets us where we are, however uncomfortable that place may be.

Have you prayed through the book of Psalms? How did the practice make you feel? What questions did it bring up for you?

Summer in the Psalms

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The other day someone randomly asked me if I could recite the 50 states in alphabetical order. “Of course I can. And in under 15 seconds,” I quipped, smugly. I proceeded to do so, to that familiar sing-songy tune from elementary school, here 25+ years later. As a musician, I’ve always used music to help me remember things and putting things to music elevates them to a new status for me. Singing something makes it seem worth remembering. Lately I’ve been thinking more deeply about why.

The book of Psalms, a book of prayers that was originally sung, is the source for the sermon series this summer at Grace Church. Each day we are reading one Psalm upon waking and one before sleeping. Each Sunday, Pastor Edwin will preach on one Psalm, and special musical settings from a variety of genres will be shared at worship, too, as we immerse ourselves in this central book of the Bible.

I’m really excited about this series because of the inherent musicality of it all. I find music to be a highly spiritual practice, and I find it so intriguing that these scriptures were what scholars say Jesus quoted the most. When he did quote from the Psalms, did Jesus sing? Were these familiar tunes that were so connected to these texts their words were unforgettable? Do these scriptures still have application to our lives today?

Join us each day as we pray through the entire book and meditate on these scriptures each Sunday starting this week. Here on the blog, I’ll be sharing my experience with this practice throughout the summer.

Here is the schedule: (And don’t worry, there’s some catch-up time at the end if you get behind!)


June 11, Monday, Psalm 1 and 2

June 12, Tuesday, Psalm 3 and 4

June 13, Wednesday, Psalm 5 and 6

June 14, Thursday, Psalm 7 and 8

June 15, Friday, Psalm 9 and 10

June 16, Saturday, Psalm 11 and 12


June 17:  Sunday, Psalm 1, “Happiness”


June 18, Monday, Psalm 13 and 14

June 19, Tuesday, Psalm 15 and 16

June 20, Wednesday, Psalm 17 and 18

June 21, Thursday, Psalm 19 and 20

June 22, Friday, Psalm 21 and 22

June 23, Saturday, Psalm 23 and 24


June 24: Sunday, Psalm 12, “The End of the Civilization”


June 25, Monday, Psalm 25 and 26

June 26, Tuesday, Psalm  27 and 28

June 27, Wednesday, Psalm 29 and 30

June 28, Thursday, Psalm 31 and 32

June 29, Friday, Psalm 33 and 34

June 30, Saturday, Psalm 35 and 36


July 1: Sunday, Psalm 23, “The Good Shepherd”


July 2, Monday, Psalm 38 and 39

July 3, Tuesday, Psalm 40 and 41

July 4, Wednesday, Psalm 42 and 43

July 5, Thursday, Psalm 44 and 45

July 6, Friday, Psalm 46 and 47

July 7, Saturday, Psalm 48 and 49

 

July 8: Sunday, Psalm 37, “Commit to the Lord: Refrain from Anger”


July 9, Monday, Psalm 50 and 51

July 10, Tuesday, Psalm 52 and 53

July 11, Wednesday, Psalm 54 and 55

July 12, Thursday, Psalm 56 and 57

July 13, Friday, Psalm 58 and 59

July 14, Saturday, Psalm 60 and 61


July 15: Sunday, Psalm 42, “Longing for God”


July 16, Monday, Psalm 62 and 63

July 17, Tuesday, Psalm 64 and 65

July 18, Wednesday, Psalm 66 and 67

July 19, Thursday, Psalm 68 and 69

July 20, Friday, Psalm 70 and 71

July 21, Saturday, Psalm 72 and 73


July 22: Sunday, Psalm 51, “Confession”


July 23, Monday, Psalm 74 and 75

July 24, Tuesday, Psalm 76 and 77

July 25, Wednesday, Psalm 78 and 79

July 26, Thursday, Psalm 80 and 81

July 27, Friday, Psalm 82 and 83

July 28, Saturday, Psalm 84 and 85


July 29: Sunday, Psalm 67, “Evangelism: Joy and Judgement”


July 30, Monday, Psalm 86 and 87

July 31, Tuesday, Psalm 88 and 89

August 1, Wednesday, Psalm 90 and 91

August 2, Thursday, Psalm 92 and 93

August 3, Friday, Psalm 94 and 95

August 4, Saturday, Psalm 96 and 97


August 5: Sunday, Psalm 73, “Why Do Good Things Happen to Bad People?”


August 6, Monday, Psalm 98 and 99

August 7, Tuesday, Psalm 100 and 101

August 8, Wednesday, Psalm 102 and 103

August 9, Thursday, Psalm 104 and 105

August 10, Friday, Psalm 106 and 107

August 11, Saturday, Psalm 108 and 109


August 12: Sunday, Psalm 91, "Abiding in the Shadow of the Almighty"


August 13, Monday, Psalm 110 and 111

August 14, Tuesday, Psalm 112 and 113

August 15, Wednesday, Psalm 114 and 115

August 16, Thursday, Psalm 116 and 117

August 17, Friday, Psalm 118 and 119

August 18, Saturday, Psalm 120 and 121


August 19: Sunday, Psalm 100, "Make a Joyful Noise"


August 20, Monday, Psalm 122  and 123

August 21, Tuesday, Psalm 124 and 125

August 22, Wednesday, Psalm 126 and 127

August 23, Thursday, Psalm 128 and 129

August 24, Friday, Psalm 130 and 131

August 25, Saturday, Psalm 132 and 133


August 26: Sunday, Psalm 121, “Looking to the Hills for Help”


August 27, Monday, Psalm 134 and 135

August 28, Tuesday, Psalm 136 and 137

August 29, Wednesday, Psalm 138 and 139

August 30, Thursday, Psalm 140 and 141

August 31, Friday, Psalm 142 and 143

September 1, Saturday, Psalm 144 and 145


September 2: Sunday, Psalm 139: “Born to Praise”


September 3, Monday, Psalm 146 and 147

September 4, Tuesday, Psalm 148 and 149

September 5, Wednesday, Psalm 150

September 6-8: Catch up, if needed


September 9: Sunday, Psalm 139/150 “Born to Praise: Part 2”

Christmas Prayer

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God of miracles and mysteries,

We give you thanks this day for the most joyful gift of your son Jesus sent to us on Christmas. Grant us your peace that we might harness the Christ child’s gentleness, humility, and love to do your work in this world. Help us to remember the least, the last, the lost and the lonely, as He did.

As the angels announced the good news to the shepherds and as the star led the wise men far from the safety of their own land, help us to never cease to sing your praises and go out into the world to share the news of your breaking into our world.

In Jesus’ name we pray,

Amen!

Merry Christmas from all of us at Grace and Lumina Arts Incubator! 

 

Creative Arts Advent Devotional: Week 3, Day 5

 Some of my first baby gifts! 

Some of my first baby gifts! 

 

Friday, December 22, 2017:

“But now, because you did not believe my words, which will be fulfilled in their time, you will become mute, unable to speak, until the day these things occur.”

Luke 1: 20

Before I became pregnant myself, numerous people told me that becoming a mother could be a deeply spiritual experience. As this process of growing a human for the first time has been happening to me this year, I do find myself in agreement with them. Miracle is one way to describe this process. Getting out of God’s way would be another. It has certainly been a lesson in trust and praise, that’s for sure. Mostly, I feel blessed to be expecting a child, as I know many people are not afforded this privilege.

What has surprised me most in this process is how along with these warm feelings of closeness and mysticism, has come a very unsettling feeling. To describe it positively, I might call it awe, more negatively it could be deemed worry... but let’s just say it might be most accurately described in Zechariah’s reaction to the angel in this verse from Luke 1.

Have you ever been given an amazing blessing and felt a rush of intense doubt and anxiety immediately upon getting the news? I do not blame Zechariah in his response one bit. I fell mute in disbelief the first time someone gave us baby clothes as a gift. It seemed impossible to believe that a human being that I was going to make in my own womb was going to wear that onesie.

Maybe the silence that the angel sentences Zechariah to isn’t a punishment but a gift. How many of us could benefit from quietly reflect on God at work in our lives, to quiet our minds and lips as we live in the presence of the holy miracles happening every day in our midst? I don’t believe that my disquieting (interesting word...isn’t it?) feelings about even my blessings are a direct distrust of God. Instead, I think they are more of a symptom of the smallness of my hopes and dreams.  God always seems to be calling us to greater and greater blessings that are beyond our understanding. Like C.S. Lewis wrote, “like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.”* When did our awe and praise become so clouded by doubt and worry? How can quiet meditation and reflection of both the good and bad in our lives bring us closer to God and God’s will?

Prayer: Creator God, thank you for your miracles, big and small, believable and unbelievable. Help us to not be so easily pleased, and to hope for your power and might to bring about impossible blessings in our lives, in spite of past hardships. Thank you for the gift of motherhood and all your precious children, in and out of utero. Especially the Child we celebrate at Christmas, your Son, in whose name we pray, Amen.

Creative Call-to-Action: For 10 minutes today go for a walk, keeping silence. Listen to the world around you, and whenever you notice something, give it to God. What questions form in your mind? What doubts trouble you? Trust God in the silence.

—Merideth Hite Estevez

*The Weight of Glory

Advent Creative Arts Devotional: Week 3, Day 4

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Thursday, December 21, 2017:

The angel replied, “I am Gabriel. I stand in the presence of God, and I have been sent to speak to you and to bring you this good news.”

  Luke 1:19

When I used to think of angels, I always imagined these figures draped in all white with a gold halo strumming a harp. WITH WINGS! Don’t forget the beautiful long white wings that allow them to travel between heaven and earth. In fact, the main-stream media has made an angel out to be this unattainable creature that no human has the potential to become.

It wasn’t until I became an adult that I encountered people who challenged my thought process. They challenged me by exhibiting characteristics of an angel that I didn’t hear about or see on television or read in stories. They showed me compassion in times of desperation, generosity and kindness at times I didn’t deserve it, and most importantly they showed me unconditional love.

Just like this passage, angels come into our lives spreading messages of hope, love and salvation. They are constant reminders that God is always present whether we are  enduring tough times or celebrating the best of times. Sometimes we listen and we are filled with hope, other times we may be so discouraged that we don’t embrace the message. This may be because it’s not the message we wanted to hear, it wasn’t said when we thought it should be said or it didn’t come from who we thought it should have come from.

We must remember to not be like  Zechariah, in his doubt. We must take the time to lis-ten and take heed to messages that come from God’s chosen people. We must use dis-cernment and recognize when we are in the presence of an earthy angel who God has sent to help us find our way.

Prayer: Dear Heavenly Father, Thank you for thinking of me so highly that you would send your angels to me in my times of need. Right now I ask that you bless me with the wisdom to know when you have sent me an angel to bring about good news and the courage to listen to the message. I pray that I be reminded that your angels are a  constant reminder that you are always there and you will never leave me or forsake me. In your name I pray, Amen.

Creative Call-to-Action: Write a letter to someone who has been an angel in your life. Take the time to include a moment where they shared good news or a message you desperately needed to hear. When you complete the letter, decide if you would like to send it to your angel or keep it for yourself. 

—Brandi Bey

Creative Arts Advent Devotional: Week 3, Day 3

  Kehinde Wiley, Saint John the Baptist in the Wilderness, 2013 


Kehinde Wiley, Saint John the Baptist in the Wilderness, 2013 

Wednesday, December 20, 2017: He will turn many of the people of Israel to the Lord their God.  With the spirit and power of Elijah he will go before him, to turn the hearts of parents to their children, and the disobedient to the wisdom of the righteous, to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.”

Luke 1: 16-17

In this passage, Gabriel, an angel from God, is speaking to Zechariah informing him of the birth of his son John. Just like people of today, Zechariah didn't believe what the angel said, even though the angel told him of John's great purpose-- that John was to announce the birth of Jesus: The Christ, our Lord and Savior. John did accomplish his mission, but it took persistence, stamina and boldness. He never backed down.

Who are the forerunners of Christ today? It's all of us who are born-again believers.  We must now prepare the people for Christ's Second Coming.  Like John the Baptist, we are the ones God chose to spread the good news: the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

We have all been gifted with talents to be used for His glory, and it takes commitment as we strive to stay on task and always be devoted to the cause.  The work can be grueling at times, but like John, we must never give up.  Distractions can also get in the way but keeping our minds stayed on the task at hand will brings results that will never be for-gotten for generations to come.

This is what it was like for John the Baptist. He warned the people to repent so they could be prepared for the anticipation (or Advent): the birth of Jesus. All who listened and believed in the coming of the Son of God, were reconciled back to the Father and had everlasting life.

Prayer:  Father God, please lead and allow me to have the boldness of John the Baptist to prepare today's people to receive within their entire being the love of Jesus. Open their hearts and minds to ask for forgiveness of their sins and the desire to live a life that glorifies you. In Jesus’ precious name I pray, Amen!

Creative Call-to-Action: Familiarize yourself with scriptures by attending worship and Bible Study, and by committing to personal time with the Lord each day. Challenge yourself to share with at least two other people about what Advent means to you this week. Remember: it’s not always what you receive, it's what you bring.

   —Minister Sandy Clark