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Music, Liturgy & the Relief of the Soul

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Friends of Padre Steve’s Word

Something a little bit different. A while back I was asked to write and article for a periodical called “The Liturgical Singer” which is published by the That National Association of Pastoral Musicians. The article came out only in hard copy and at the request of a couple of friends I am posting it here. Have a great night.

Peace

Padre Steve+

 

“And whenever the evil spirit from God came upon Saul, David took the lyre and played it with his hand, and Saul would be relieved and feel better, and the evil spirit would depart from him.” 1 Samuel 16:23

When I was in seminary one of the most valuable courses I ever took was an introductory course in Church Music. The course opened my heart to music in the liturgical setting. Now I am not a musician, I play the radio and sing monotone. Like many pastors, priests and theologians I am a word person; written, spoken I am a word person. That being said I learned early on that music can be a balm for the wounded and suffering soul.

Sadly, I don’t think that many priests or pastors truly understand this. I am a Priest and Navy Chaplain. But, I am one of the wounded. I suffer from severe PTSD, anxiety, and more often than not I find going to church often makes things worse. As an Iraq Veteran I can somewhat relate to King Saul. Sometimes the effects of PTSD feel like an evil spirit, and when I came home from war I went through a spiritual crisis that was so bad that for nearly two years I was for all practical purposes an agnostic hoping that God still existed.

Hans Christian Anderson wrote that “Where words fail, music speaks.” All too often our worship, even in liturgical churches focuses more on words, than it does the healing property of music.

Those who suffer from trauma of any kind, including PTSD, or who suffer from anxiety, depression or other afflictions of the soul don’t usually come to church to see a show or to get yet another self-help lecture baptized with a few selected Bible verses. They don’t come to be entertained. They come for solace, they come to encounter God as do most regular churchgoers. But a recent Barna survey noted that less than 20% of regular churchgoers feel close to God on even a monthly basis. Martin Luther, who suffered from tremendous depression and despair for much of his life wrote “My heart, which is so full to overflowing, has often been solaced and refreshed by music when sick and weary.”

One has to ask why this is. I think one reason is that in many churches, even liturgical churches music has become entertainment. While this is pervasive in our American church culture it is not new. Erasmus of Rotterdam wrote:

“We have brought into our churches certain operatic and theatrical music; such a confused, disorderly chattering of some words as I hardly think was ever in any of the Grecian or Roman theatres. The church rings with the noise of trumpets, pipes, and dulcimers; and human voices strive to bear their part with them….”

As entertain it really is no longer part of liturgy, which is by definition the work of the people. I think the type or style of music is less important than the message that it conveys. I honestly believe different types of music touch our soul in different ways. That being said I think that the message of the music should lead people into the presence of God and to do that church music directors and liturgists need to back off of the culture of entertainment that has invaded the Church. I can say that there are songs, hymns and psalms of almost every musical style which reside in my heart. In the midst of my spiritual crisis I found that some of these songs stayed with me. One verse of Abide With Me was one of my prayers during that time:

Come not in terrors, as the King of kings, But kind and good, with healing in Thy wings, Tears for all woes, a heart for every plea— Come, Friend of sinners, and thus abide with me.

I have found that when a liturgist leads a people into the presence of God it is that the songs, hymns and songs they use actually allow the people to participate in the liturgy. The songs speak of God’s presence even in the midst of suffering, they allow those who suffer a measure of hope, even in the midst of what St. John of the Cross referred to as “the dark night of the soul.” When this happens the music becomes part of the participant’s experience of God, it takes up residence in the depth of the soul and there it remains reminding the person that they are not alone. Percy Bysshe Shelley wrote that “Music, when soft voices die, vibrates in the memory.”

Peace

Padre Steve+

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The Triumph of Ray Lewis: God’s Work and Glory or Typical Christian Spin?

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“To the family: If you knew, if you really knew the way God works, he don’t use people who commits anything like that for his glory. No way. It’s the total opposite.” Ray Lewis to CBS Sports before Super Bowl

After the Baltimore Ravens won the Super bowl in 2000 Ray Lewis, their Pro-Bowl Linebacker and MVP of Super Bowl XXXV and two of his friends were involved in a fight after a post-super bowl party. The fight turned out to be an ugly affair and when it was done two men lay dead, the blood of one in Lewis’s limo. The suit Lewis was wearing during the party was never found. Lewis ended up taking a plea bargain in which Lewis plead guilty to a misdemeanor count of obstruction of justice in exchange for his testimony against his companions and the dropping of double homicide charges.

Since that time Lewis has distinguished himself on the football field, won many accolades and done much charity and community work. He has been active in church and worked for the benefit of many people. For all of those things he should be commended. He is beloved in Baltimore, not merely because he has brought football glory to the city but because of those acts of charity and community involvement.

At the same time his silence about the murders, in which he is one of three men living to know the truth about what happened on that night is troubling. Even more so when I saw his interview before the Super Bowl as well as other comments made back in 2006 to Sports Illustrated in The Gospel According to Ray http://sportsillustrated.cnn.com/vault/article/magazine/MAG1108943/1/index.htm as his image rehabilitation efforts had propelled him back into the favor of fans and the league.

Do I believe that people can change? Yes. Do I believe that God loves and forgives sinners? By all means. Do I value Ray Lewis as a football legend, man of great civic charity and even faith? Yes. Do I have questions that are unanswered about the unsolved murders and Lewis’s involvement in them? Yes.

In assessing Lewis and his legacy I agree with Boomer Esiason who at the end of the interview this Sunday commended to Sterling Sharpe, the man who conducted the interview: “It’s a complex legacy that we’re talking about here…Because he was involved in a double murder.  And I’m not so sure that he gave us all the answer that we were looking for.  He knows what went on there.  And he can obviously just come out and say it.  He doesn’t want to say it.  He paid off the families.  I get all that.  That’s fine.  But that doesn’t take away from who he is as a football player.  And I appreciate you going down there and asking him that direct question.  I’m not so sure I buy the answer.”

However, for me the questions are even deeper than Lewis’s individual guilt, innocence and involvement in the murders. That is a big issue of its own but I see a bigger issue and that deals with Christians who are willing to bury the murders because Lewis has found God, been successful on the field and done many wonderful things for his community and the disenfranchised in it.

The problem that I see is not new. It is a problem that has been the bane of American Evangelical Christianity for at least a generation. That problem is the “Prosperity Gospel” which puts a premium on earthly success as a measure of the blessing of God on an individual, business, church or organization. In fact, that message basically has been used and abused by a multitude of preachers who have committed crimes against God and man, adultery, murder, greed, avarice, lies. You name it a prosperity preacher has done it and found a way to excuse their sin based on God’s “blessing” of their ministry and earthly success.

The sad thing it is not just preachers, nor is it limited to the “prosperity” crowd. The banal covering up of crimes in order to protect legacies of preachers, churches or popular “Christian leaders” is epidemic in the life of American churches. The incidents are so many that they have become numbing. One only has to look across the denominational spectrum to see the terrible effects ranging from the Roman Catholic sexual abuse scandals to unseemly behaviors by church leaders in other denominations to see the rot that has been covered with a veneer of righteousness and deception which cloaks their misdeeds under the vail of temporal power, opulence, political influence and material success.

In his interview Lewis made the comment that “if you really knew the way God works, he don’t use people who commits anything like that for his glory.” Actually Lewis is wrong on this. According to scripture God used many unseemly men for his glory, but the key for those that are honored in scripture is that they acknowledged their sins and sought forgiveness.

I think that the most notable of these was King David, a man who killed the husband of a woman that he was conducting an adulterous affair to cover up her pregnancy. David tried to cover it up but was uncovered by the a prophet named Nathan. David repented and Psalm 51 documents that repentance. However endured an awful price from his sin. The baby died and his son led a rebellion against him. He was forbidden from building the Temple, despite scripture’s proclamation that David was “a man after God’s own heart.”

My issue with what has gone on with Ray Lewis is the fact that the records for his court settlements and pleas are sealed as are the records of his out of court cash settlement with the family of one of the dead men. The truth is known by Lewis and is being covered up by him even while he proclaims his own victimhood, in the 2006 Sports Illustrated article that being booed and criticized was like being “crucified.”

But that is par for the course in modern American Christianity. If Ray Lewis’s actions  were an anomaly it might be more remarkable, but they have become all too common, even the now disgraced former Cardinal Archbishop of Los Angeles Roger Mahoney is spinning his cover ups of the sexual abuse scandals and claiming victimhood for himself following his suspension from public ministry. No wonder people are fleeing the Church in droves and that the fastest growing segment of the religious belief are “the nones” or those with no religious preference.

The involvement in and cover up of what happened do not take away from Ray Lewis’s remarkable on field accomplishments. He is one of the most gifted and accomplished football players who ever played the game. However, when it is all said and done is that all life is about and is that all that Lewis or any of us want as our legacy?

Peace

Padre Steve+

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