This post is a response to the UU Blog Carnival question. There's no link here, because I'm not sure yet if I'm actually going to send it in. The question asked is:
“What gets you through the hard night?” More specifically, what is it in our faith tradition, that brings you the strength and/or comfort you need to face difficult times? Are there theological concepts, specific words, hymns, practices that sustain you in trying times?The Theology in the Music.
I'm not a singer. The junior high music teacher once said to me, "Don't sing, just mouth the words." So I stopped singing. Until I had children, I didn't sing at home. Until I facilitated the Rise Up and Call Her Name curriculum and had to lead participants in its chants, I didn't sing in public. For years.
I've heard groaning about our hymnal, and jokes about how we UU's sing so poorly because we're reading ahead to see if we agree with the words. But, there's a lot of theology embedded in the hymns' lyrics. There are a few that I sing when I need an energy lift, or a reminder of where my strength comes from, or when I feel like the world is not going to make it through another day.
The theology expressed in our music becomes part of us - anyone who can still sing along with pop tunes from 2 decades (or more) ago, knows that what we learn in a musical or rhythmic way sticks with us. For example, I can still recite, verbatim, most of my son's favorite picture book from 18 years ago, which is written in a rhythmic rhyming style. My dh can recite huge chunks of Dr. Seuss books for the same reason. In the same way, some beloved hymn lyrics stick with me - and their messages get me through some difficult times.
So, here are some examples of theology in music that helps me, most often by calling me to stop worrying about "me" and do something:
In my home church, we sing the same chalice lighting response almost every week. When the worship committee considered changing it, a few parents objected, because their younger kids loved singing that song. That's when I began to realize that we were using a very powerful medium to teach theological concepts, and they were being ingrained through repetition. "May love shine forth through us today, May light of reason guide our way, May beauty truth and joy become, A flame that burns in everyone." Easily memorized, it contains a succinct statement of theology and practice: Love each other & show it, search for truth critically, encourage each other.
Love Will Guide Us (#131) is an everyday stress sort of song, and sort of a "gimme" here. After all - the question could be derived from the lyrics. It's just three short, up-tempo verses, containing a whole theological statement:
1. "Love will guide us/Peace has tried us/Hope inside us/Will lead the way/On the road from/Greed to giving/Love will guide us/Through the hard night."It's reassuring & uplifting - sort of like the quote from Mother Teresa about being able to do the small things with great love, because not everyone gets to do the great things. There's a lot going on in these simple words - faith that love will lead us home, commentary on social justice, and a reassurance that the smallest act can be the one that makes all the difference.
2. "If you cannot/Sing like angels/If you cannot/Speak before thousands/You can give from/Deep within you/You can change the world/With your love." (and the third verse just repeats the first)
This is My Song (#159) is, for me, a deep prayer for survival. Even as a non-theist, I can sing to "God of all the nations," and resonate with the images the words evoke. So, maybe the god of all the nations for me is the possibility of humanity coming together to live in peace...it's still not a bad prayer. This is my home - but others have homes and dreams, and we don't all get there, unless we all get there. The goal of peace is not just for me & mine, but for everyone.
My kids have grown up going to a UU family camp. There's a song they sing there that goes "How could anyone ever tell you, you were anything less than beautiful? How could anyone ever tell you, you were less than whole?..." There's another theological statement, straight out of our first principle, and I know it's a message that has cracked some of hard adolescent shells. The high schoolers at camp presented a vespers program this year, which was the usual mix of silliness and shyness and uncertainty. Until they sang that song. Every single teen sobered up, grabbed hands or draped arms around each other, stood tall and sang as if their lives depended on it. These kids have internalized the first principle in a beautiful way. Because I know many of them personally, I can testify to their kindness and compassion not only for each other, but for others in their lives. And they learned it, painlessly, by singing.
May love shine forth through me today
May light of reason guide my way
May I help beauty, truth and joy become
A flame that burns in everyone.