Silence and Sound Advent Devotional

Faithful readers,

As promised, our contemplative Advent devotional is ready now for download.  Beginning Friday, December 1 through December 25, enjoy a reading and contemplative exercise each day.

Silence and Sound 2
Download Advent Devotaional

Silence & Sound Advent 2017 is our gift to you this Advent season. We hope that through this devotional, you are called to deeper understanding and fuller practice of the faith we share in Christ! We worked together across the world to compile these readings and thoughts as short daily readings with accompanying contemplations or actions you can pick up at any point in the day or integrate into your personal advent practice.”

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“Silence and sound are two vital themes in the Old Testament. Although this pair are often discussed as opposites, we have placed them on a spectrum–silence can sound like many different things. From the beginning, we encounter the silence of the void into which the Creator speaks, a certain silence of good creation at peace as the Creator rests; but also the silence of Adam during the Temptation, the silence of Eve as she gives the serpent too much shrift, the silence of dread that must have filled their ears, knowing the Lord God would show up. Silence gives the foundational mythos of Scripture its cadence, while sound accompanies the interventions of the Creator. God speaks, and the world is created, and so the morning stars sing for joy. Prophets prophesy and kings decree; people cry out in repentance, and then praise.

“All the way through, silence and sound punctuate this holy history of the Old Testament. The silence of pain: from the uncomfortable silence between Abraham and Isaac on Mount Moriah to the deathly silences Esther endured to save her people. The sound of distress: the sound of Israelites groaning under their slavery, the repentant sound of Nineveh’s decree, and the reluctant sound of Jeremiah’s prophecies. The silence of blessing: from the stupefied silence as his brothers are reconciled to Joseph to the hushed silence as the ark of the covenant is placed in the Temple. The sound of victory: the sound of the Lord God cursing the serpent, the sound of the ram’s horn and warrior’s shout crumbling Jericho, the sound of Isaiah’s response “Here am I.”

“Beyond these guiding narratives, we find silence and sound woven through the lives and the faith of believers throughout history. Silence and sound can be sources of strength when we have trained ourselves to hear them. If we will attune our ears and attend to the message, we will hear the glory of God in the sounds and silences of life. The Advent season is a reminder to us of the power of waiting and listening as well speaking out. May the voice of the Lord guide your lives and faith!”

Writers:

Bethany Stallings
Charlotte Cline-Smith
Meridith Matson
Nathan Bingaman
Scott Matson

Artist:

Ellie Stager
letterandjournal.com

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arrival of advent

The arrival of advent awaits us.  Beginning December 3, the church begins a season of expectation and waiting, culminating on Christmas Day as we celebrate the birth of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.

A few friends of mine have put together a contemplative advent guide, which will be available for free.  Check back here later this coming week for a link to download.  This guide is meant to help you create some calm in the midst of this often busy season.  We hope it is a blessing and refreshment to your soul this season.

Check back here for a few of my original writing and poetry, as I’ll post on the day each one is read in the guide.

Peace to you this Christmas season.

I Breathe You In

The presence of the living God,
Satisfies the depths of my heart
All of me changed when you came,
Iʼm made free by Your glory and grace

I breathe You in God, cause You are thick all around me 
I breathe You in God, cause You are thick all around me

The brightness of Your loves pure light,
Pierces through the darkest of nights
Everything is possible now,
For God is here and God is good

You are good God, 
For You are good to me You are Good God, 
For You are good to me

When I donʼt understand Iʼll choose You
When I donʼt understand I will choose You God
When I donʼt understand I will choose to Love You God

 

Worship and Hymns: Worship of Hymns?

Some of the oldest hymns we sing today are maybe 200 years old.  It has been nearly 2,000 years since Christ walked this earth.  The rich “heritage” and “tradition” many hold near and dear to their hearts when it comes to music, probably isn’t really “traditional” at all…

I feel like I could blast out a blog going so many different directions right now…

[HYMNS] an introduction.

Music has always been a staple in the Christian faith, over both the Old and New Testament, we see many examples of songs that were written; songs written in battle, defeat, victory, quiet moments, joyous events, and spontaneous songs of praise as well.  I’d like to speak about the text of hymns first, and then talk about musicianship, and writing hymns secondly.  I will try my best to refrain from making personal comments and observations until the conclusion. 

Generally, in the function of music in the church, the text is perceived as the most important piece of worship, and rightfully so.  But, let us not forget the importance of musicianship, and playing skillfully, as the Psalmist speaks about.  And as recorded in 1 Chronicles 15:22, “Chenaniah, leader of the Levites in music, was to direct the music, for he understood it” (emphasis mine).  The importance of knowing music is vital, because music is a powerful emotional tool to bring humanity to Christ.  There is also another topic I would like to touch on, and that is the tension between the old and the new.  Christianity has always held tightly (sometimes too tightly) to the traditions passed down by our forefathers, however, the Psalmist speaks about singing a “new song” to the Lord (Psalm 96:1, Psalm 33:3…), and the prophet Isaiah also speaks about God doing a new thing, and to forget the former ways (Isaiah 42-43).  Living in the tension of tradition, and the new and what is to come is part of the dichotomy of knowing Christ, and walking with him, and if you will (musical pun intended), the dissonance of harmonies being played all at once, making it into something beautiful.

Forgive my scattered thoughts, but this is turning into bit more of an academic research paper, than just a blog post.

Over countless years, the Christian Church has seen many, many beautiful hymns [songs] written, speaking of the character and life of Christ, articulating theology in a very real and artistic way, and speaking about the life of the Christian.  There are many wonderful hymns/songs out there, but there are also many terrible hymns as well.  Don’t get me started on this…. We digress.  Anyway, the purpose of music in worship is an agent for connecting the human, to the divine.  This spans across religions.  There is something absolutely beyond this world that is the very essence of what music is.  The human and Divine meeting together as one and creating something beautiful, but also more mysterious than we could ever understand with our minds as humans. 

[HYMNS] text.

First, the text of a hymn can be approached in many different ways, but one common “formula”, if you will, that many hymn writers use is a progression of earth to heaven, in various different ways.  Just a few examples of this are: Amazing Grace, Abide with Me, It is Well With My Soul, How Great Thou Art (this is in fact actually a modern day hymn), among many, many others. 

For this particular examination of music, there will not be as much focus on how hymn text was written, but I do want to highlight that when the Liturgy was established and standardized by Charlemagne (more on him in the coming section), it also set a standardized text for Mass sung in churches.  In these days, circa 500 AD, the text remained the same each Sunday, and as time progressed, different composers would simply set this same text to different music and arrangement. 

This was the structure of the Mass, the liturgy sung and spoken by the people:

The same overtones of the Mass are still a large part of what happens from week to week (in some form or fashion) in our Evangelical churches even today.  Kyrie was the only Greek element to the Roman mass, and the words “Lord have mercy, Christ have mercy“, was the translations of what was sung.  Gloria, the story of Christ’s birth, and the songs the angels sang to announce Christ’s birth.  Sanctus, meaning Holy, resonating in parallel with Isaiah 6, Agnus Dei, worthy is the Lamb who was slain, and so forth.  (Some of this I’m spouting from memory, other pieces from this book.  Read more on good old wikipedia).  As you can see, many of the songs we sing in our churches today are singing these exact same words, in different and new ways.  Not much has changed over time, and our traditions are still traditions, but in a new way.

[HYMNS] early church history. music.

Next, I will attempt to highlight in broad terms about the musical side of how hymns were written, and are written.  In the early days of the church, the church was the only source for well written and well performed music.  The church set the tempo for what expectations were when it came to music, and all this music, was worship.  In the Medieval Era, circa 400 AD, there was a significant draw away from secular music all together.  Monasticism communities were a way people could withdraw from the societal pressures of living in the world, and Christians could live distinct lives devoted completely to serving God, which also had a huge impact on music in the church.  This music was “Gregorian chant”, or also called “plainchant”, and vocal music was generally all monophonic (sung in the same tone and one melody), and slightly polyphonic also (different melodies sung together at the same time). 

Other historic events also lead to more development in music within the church, including the rule Charlemagne, where Christianity was made the official religion in the Roman Empire, and he also standardized many forms of worship, and lead to great musical development.  From his rule, he standardized a unified liturgy, along with music, as discussed earlier.

Another vital piece of the history of church music is to also understand that in these days, within the first 800-1,300 years of Church History, music was performance based, there was no participation required of the listener, only to simply listen and be moved by the music.  Music was left up to the professional, trained musician (this was not the case in the Old and New Testament, only what we see in this particular era).

As musical styles unfolded in the 1,000-1,700 AD range, so did the development of more secular music, and a departure from music only being performed within the church; but several factors influenced what emerged out of church music from this time frame.  First being the birth and events of Martin Luther’s life, the father of the Reformation.  Luther, as many may not realize, was a theologian, but also a hymn writer as well.  Part of his view on the separation from the Catholic Church was that worship should be something that was participatory, as he composed many congregational hymns.  His “preposterous” view that the mass be changed from Latin, to German was an outrageous suggestion, but at the time most people would attend church and not hear a word of the actual language they spoke.  Congregational songs, where the attender in church could engage in, was a huge breakthrough, and even now, as this is the basis for what church music and worship is today. 

Luther said, quoting Augustine, “For music is a gift…of God, not a gift of men [sic]… Therefore accustom yourself to see in music your Creator and to praise him through it”.  Luther also was a proponent for secular music being an avenue for worshipping God, and his famous hymn “A Mighty Fortress is Our God”, used the same tune as a secular song, and was used as a congregational hymn. 

Much more could be said of the road Martin Luther paved, but that is an entirely different blog/book. 

I’d like to also mention and briefly highlight Johann Sebastian Bach, as most everyone, secular or Christian, would agree made huge strides in both the vocal and classical music genres, and was a composer, choirmaster, and Church musician his entire life.  Almost all the songs he ever composed were songs of worship, for the glory of God.  It is quite interesting to consider, since his legacy is regarded as one of the most influential musicians and composers who ever lived.

[HYMNS] then and now.
(this is the part all of you who skipped the long history might want to read)

Tradition is what makes humans, human.  We cannot deny this fact.  Tradition makes our churches what they are today, however, if we as Christians now, in the twenty-first century are simply relying on our own “evangelical” or “gospel” traditions, we are missing the boat.  It’s already sailed, long ago.  Let’s admit it: music is something that touches our hearts, so if we are truly honest, we want to hear sometimes the music and songs that were meaningful to us as we went through a difficult time, or songs that were significant to bringing us to Christ, but let us not confuse this with being “better” or more spiritual.  This is called personal preference.

Let us educate ourselves.  If people at Church ABC are continually requesting “hymns”, but what they really want are the Gospel songs written in the 50’s by the Gather’s, then let us just say it like we mean it: we want what makes us feel good.  We cannot be Christians that continually live in the past and the “good old days”, because, as mentioned in the introduction, God is continually working , and he is doing new things even today (Isaiah 42-43).  The church is called to engage in a conversation with the culture we live in, but the purpose of the church is not to be “hip” and “cool”.  The church is called to acknowledge tradition (and by “tradition” I mean TRUE tradition– such as the early church as seen in Acts), not just the “tradition” that we were raised on, whenever we happened to be born.  God has put us on this earth, now, “for such a time as this”, and we can choose to acknowledge this, or simply live on our own planet, and not engage with what is going on.

My main point is this: our expression of our faith can never be divorced from our culture.  Don’t believe me?  Research the New Testament, in particular, and you will see that the language used, phrasing and wording, things Paul addresses in his letters, etc., were all things that had to do with the culture of THAT day.  So we, as students of the scriptures, can do our very best to examine this, and prayerfully seek the Spirit to know how those truths translate to us today. 

Don’t read me wrong, we are not going to be singing Justin Bieber in church, or sacrifice the truths that are TRUTHS, but we cannot continue to live in the dark.  We cannot simply request all our favorite songs from the 50’s because that’s the ONLY way we can connect with God, God is beyond time.  God is beyond musical style.  Wrap your brain around that!

As I mentioned in the introduction, we are called to simply connect the human with the Divine, through music and worship.  This can be done by singing scripture, theological truths, telling the story of Christ, and speaking to our own humanity.  We can communicate this through painting a musical picture, simply through an instrumental piece.  But let us not miss the simple fact of this: it is all for the glory of God.  It is not for us. 

Do you hear what I’m saying?  It is not about US.  It is not about the songs WE want.  It is not about how the songs make US feel. 

It is all about HIM. 

God’s majesty.  His beauty.  His reign in our hearts and lives. 

May we never miss this, because if we do, then we are simply attending church to worship ourselves.

—–

Sources cited:
“A History of Music in Western Culture”
“Jubilate 2: Church Music in Worship and Renewal”

Maundy Thursday

Maundy Thursday, or Holy Thursday, commemorates the Last Supper Christ shared with his disciples.  “Maundy” originates from John 13:34, “A new commandment I give unto you, That ye love one another; as I have loved you”.  More information available here. And here.

Jesus Prays for All Believers.  John 17:20-26:   “My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one— I in them and you in me—so that they may be brought to complete unity. Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.

“Father, I want those you have given me to be with me where I am, and to see my glory, the glory you have given me because you loved me before the creation of the world.

“Righteous Father, though the world does not know you, I know you, and they know that you have sent me.  I have made you known to them, and will continue to make you known in order that the love you have for me may be in them and that I myself may be in them.”

Galatians 6:14: “We should glory in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, for he is our salvation,
our life and our resurrection; through Him we are saved and made free.”

I will not forget the cross the pain that You endured for us
Where You carried brokenness and shame
Never to forget the day Your love broke through to make a way
For hope to rise within my heart again

Overwhelming sacrifice You freely paid the highest price
Suffering You traded blood for me
My heart will sing the deepest praise my lips rejoice, my hands will raise
For the death that brought me into life

All for love my Jesus, You gave all for love
I am standing in the wonder of Your great love

What would I have done if it wasn’t for Your love?
The love that tore the veil inside my heart
What would I have become if it wasn’t for Your blood?
The blood You gave for all on the cross

Holy Tuesday

From the Book of Common Prayer, use according to the Episcopal Church:
Tuesday in Holy Week
O God, who by the passion of they blessed Son didst make an instrument of shameful death to be unto us the means of life: Grant us so to glory in the cross of Christ, that we may gladly suffer shame and loss for the sake of thy Son our Savior Jesus Christ; who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen. 

John 13: 21 – 33, 36 – 38


21 When Jesus had thus spoken, he was troubled in spirit, and testified, “Truly, truly, I say to you, one of you will betray me.”
22 The disciples looked at one another, uncertain of whom he spoke.
23 One of his disciples, whom Jesus loved, was lying close to the breast of Jesus;
24 so Simon Peter beckoned to him and said, “Tell us who it is of whom he speaks.”
25 So lying thus, close to the breast of Jesus, he said to him, “Lord, who is it?”
26 Jesus answered, “It is he to whom I shall give this morsel when I have dipped it.” So when he had dipped the morsel, he gave it to Judas, the son of Simon Iscariot.
27 Then after the morsel, Satan entered into him. Jesus said to him, “What you are going to do, do quickly.”
28 Now no one at the table knew why he said this to him.
29 Some thought that, because Judas had the money box, Jesus was telling him, “Buy what we need for the feast”; or, that he should give something to the poor.
30 So, after receiving the morsel, he immediately went out; and it was night.
31 When he had gone out, Jesus said, “Now is the Son of man glorified, and in him God is glorified;
32 if God is glorified in him, God will also glorify him in himself, and glorify him at once.
33 Little children, yet a little while I am with you. You will seek me; and as I said to the Jews so now I say to you, `Where I am going you cannot come.’
36 Simon Peter said to him, “Lord, where are you going?” Jesus answered, “Where I am going you cannot follow me now; but you shall follow afterward.”
37 Peter said to him, “Lord, why cannot I follow you now? I will lay down my life for you.”
38 Jesus answered, “Will you lay down your life for me? Truly, truly, I say to you, the cock will not crow, till you have denied me three times.

 

This hymn, written in the 9th century by Kassiani the Nun, tells the story of the woman who washed Jesus’ feet (see Luke 7:36-50).  This hymn is sung in the Eastern Orthodox tradition toward the end of the “Bridegroom” service, held on Tuesday evening of their Holy week.  The hymn tells a beautiful story, and paints a picture of forgiveness, where we can all see ourselves in the place of the woman.

“O Lord, the woman who had fallen into many sins, sensing Your Divinity, takes upon herself the duty of a myrrh-bearer.
With lamentations she brings you myrrh in anticipation of your entombment. “Woe to me!” she cries, “for me night has become a frenzy of licentiousness, a dark and moonless love of sin. Receive the fountain of my tears, O You who gathers into clouds the waters of the sea. Incline unto me, unto the sighings of my heart, O You who bowed the heavens by your ineffable condescension.
I will wash your immaculate feet with kisses and dry them again with the tresses of my hair; those very feet at whose sound Eve hid herself from in fear when she heard You walking in Paradise in the twilight of the day.
As for the multitude of my sins and the depths of Your judgments, who can search them out, O Savior of souls, my Savior? Do not disdain me Your handmaiden, O You who are boundless in mercy.”

Thank You for the cross that You have carried
Thank You for Your blood that was shed
You took the weight of sin upon Your shoulders
And Sacrificed Your life so I could live

Now nothing is holding me back from You
Redeemer of my soul
Now nothing can hold me back from You
Your Love will never let me go

Thank You for Your death and resurrection
Thank You for the power of Your blood
I am overwhelmed by Your affection
The Kindness and the Greatness of Your Love
The Kindness and the Greatness of Your Love

Jesus, You make all things new

Thank You that we’re living in Your Kingdom
Jesus You’re the King upon the throne
Thank You for the way You always love me
Now I get to love You in return
Now I get to love You in return

“I’m so tired of running…”

This song hit close to home when I heard Audrey and JJ Heller in concert last week…

Audrey Assad, “Lament”

I’m Mary and I’m Martha all at the same time;
I’m sitting at His feet and yet I’m dying to be recognized.
I am a picture of contentment and I am dissatisfied.
Why is it easy to work and hard to rest sometimes,
sometimes, sometimes

I’m restless, and I rustle like a thousand tall trees;
I’m twisting and I’m turning in an endless daydream.
You wrestle me at night and I wake in search of You…
but try as I might, I just can’t catch You
But I want to, ’cause I need You, yes, I need You
I can’t catch You, but I want to.

How long, how long until I’m home?
I’m so tired, so tired of running
How long until You come for me?

I’m so tired, so tired of running
Yeah, I’m so tired, so tired of running
I’m so tired, so tired of running