To Those Who Live in Darkness…

In our Jazz Band it is always both exciting and a challenge to learn a new song. First we need to choose a new song(s) from the infinite variety available. It is usually a song or tune we know from somewhere else – a popular song, a jazz standard or something from the swing genre. Do we want to copy it as we know it or do something else with it? What instrumentation do we use? Is there a particular rhythm or style we want to employ? What sort of instrumental break do we want if there are vocals?  How do we play a new song and how does it fit into our playlist? What drops out? What song do we give up?  After a while the songs we sing become old and we need a new song. This is a wonderful metaphor for our lives. Are the ‘songs we’re singing’ becoming old? Do we need to sing a new song? Are we in patterns of life and work that are growing tired – old songs? Do we need a new song in our life? Many of the conversations I engage in with people are really about their need to sing a new song in their lives. The song they are singing is growing old, is shallow and has not fulfilled its hoped-for expectations. The ‘song’ is perhaps a little like a successful pop song that attracts us quickly and gets us in. We hear it a few times and it grabs us. We buy it; listen to it and after a few weeks we have grown tired of it. It no longer grabs us but begins to bore or irritate. The song in our lives can be like that and we need something new and vibrant, something that enlivens us and sustains us in life. I have observed many people who continually swap their ‘songs’ for new ones but each time they choose something equally superficial that gives them a buzz for a bit but doesn’t satisfy – they sing a new sing but not a good new song. Other people are in a rut, an emotional, physical, spiritual rut and can’t see their way out. They keep singing the same old song only changing the tune from time to time. The song keeps going, dragging them along, holding them in the grip of sameness that never changes. Sing, sing a new song! There are moments in life when the song we’ve been singing to abruptly ends and we experience the grief and loss associated with endings. The song dies and is replaced by the song of sadness, a dirge that echoes through our hollow soul, sombre and intensely emotional. This song is important – for a time. We need to sing through loss but for how long? How long do we need to sing this song? At some point we need to sing a new song! In the world around us there are dominant songs that hold us with their tune and their lyrics. They are sung loudly and proudly, like nationalistic songs that gather people behind flag and anthem to stand against the world. Other songs are imposed on people, songs of oppressive regimes that remind people who they are and what they need to be and do. There are songs that get into our being and seduce us. These are the songs of economic prosperity, fear of the other, peace through violence and conflict, greed and ignorance. There are songs that are unjust and help us to maintain and unjust national lifestyle.  This week’s psalm reading is Psalm 40 and in reading it I was reminded of the song that U2 wrote and recorded in about 40 minutes at the end of the ‘War’ album. This album from 1983 received its name because lead singer Bono claimed that in the early 80’s war seemed to be the dominant world theme. The album contains protest songs and songs that explore the emotional and spiritual implications of war. They needed a final song, something hopeful that transformed the theme and turned to the Bible – Psalm 40. In the song Bono sings: ‘How long, how long to sing this song…’ How long will we continue to sing the old songs? When will we sing the new song that God gives us. Psalm 40 is a psalm that speaks of waiting patiently on the Lord from the place of despair, struggle, pain… The author waits patiently, crying out to God for deliverance. God lifts him out of the miry pit and places him upon a rock, a firm foundation. God puts a new song in the psalmist’s mouth, a song of joy and praise, a song of hope and life. This psalm is a poem of deep and profound hope built on the faith and trust the author has in God. He cries out to God in the time of need, when the song he’s singing is old, worn and wretched. He doesn’t cry out to the other possibilities, the other gods that people push before him. He cries out to the God who created all things in love and will save him. It is in God, alone, he trusts. One of the things I find most difficult to deal with is when I can see that a person will only find hope and peace if they give themselves to God and trust in God alone, but they can’t or won’t. Most of us want to go it alone for as long as we can. I talk with people on and off over years and nothing much changes. They let God in a bit and then go back to some other fad or hopeful promise. They move around between this idea, that path or some new hobby or addiction hoping that they can find Nirvana but it doesn’t come through for them – not in the long run. In all of this they avoid God. God seems too hard because they may have to deal with the stuff hidden beneath their lives? God seems too easy and they look for something challenging? God seems too ordinary, traditional, boring and surrounded by images of irrelevance. So they sing the same old song – different tune or slightly different words but same old song, nothing changes. Other people become tired of the song they’re singing and, exhausted, give it all to God and wonder where it might lead. Gradually a new song emerges on their tongues; a new tune that goes deep and touches their spirit. It is a song that is bursting with life in all its fullness and resonates within their inner being because God knows us in our deepest parts. It is a song of love that captivates us but doesn’t grow old because it is new every morning. We will sing, sing a new song but what will that song be? Who writes the new song we sing and where does the music arise? Will it echo the dominant themes of the world around, themes of violence, addiction, greed, exclusion, injustice… Or, will it arise from the just, gracious and loving heart of God, deep and resonant? Will it be a song of peace for all, justice for all, inclusive community; a song of love for the whole world. Sing a new song – the song that God puts in our mouth when we trust God with our whole life.

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By geoffstevenson

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