Do you ever have one of those songs that keeps running through your mind, over and over and over again, but you can’t quite remember the whole song?
That’s happening to me right now. Actually, the song has been going through my mind for over a week, and I just can’t remember the whole thing. I’ve even spent loads of time on the Internet trying to google it without success.
The song is a choral anthem that the church choir sang when I was in high school, about 1965 or ’66. It’s the only anthem that I specifically remember singing during the high school and college years I sang in the choir.
I just loved this one particular anthem! The words were Psalm 1, the King James Version, verbatim. It was hard to sing, at least to start singing it, because it started very loud and on a high note. It was written in the key of E-flat, and the first note for sopranos was the high E-flat.
The first part is:
Blessed is the man that walketh not in the counsel of the ungodly, nor standeth in the way of sinners, nor sitteth in the seat of the scornful.
Then it starts to get a little softer…
But his delight is in the law of the LORD; and in his law doth he meditate day and night.
And that’s as far as I remember the music. I’ve looked up the rest of the words of the Psalm in my King James Bible. I’m sure those are the words we sang, but I just can’t bring the rest of the music back into my mind. I remember that the mood changes at this point, to a very peaceful setting, which fits the words perfectly:
And he shall be like a tree planted by the rivers of water, that bringeth forth his fruit in his season; his leaf also shall not wither; and whatsoever he doeth shall prosper.
Then the mood changes again. It becomes more restless:
The ungodly are not so: but are like the chaff which the wind driveth away.
Therefore the ungodly shall not stand in the judgment, nor sinners in the congregation of the righteous.
I can’t remember the tempo or dynamics of the ending. The last words of the Psalm are:
For the LORD knoweth the way of the righteous; but the way of the ungodly shall perish.
I wish I could remember the rest of the music, but it’s just not coming back to me. I think what I liked so much about this anthem when the choir sang it fifty-plus years ago was how well the music matched the words. It was exciting to me. I felt we were communicating with God with our whole being as we sang the Psalm together. I felt it in my soul and my body – not just my mind.
Many years later I read a quote attributed to St. Augustine, “Whoever sings, prays twice.” That’s what was happening when we sang that anthem. We were not only expressing the words of the song to God, through the music we were sharing our feelings with God. That’s what’s so special about music. With music, our ability to communicate is not limited to our mere intellect. Our mind, soul, and body are all involved as we sing or play a musical instrument.
As you may recall from an earlier post on this blog, one of the reasons I stopped posting to my blog every week is that I wanted to work on some other projects and needed to free up some of my time to do so. One of my new projects is writing a devotional book focused on 365 of my favorite hymns. Over the past few months, I’ve been organizing my thoughts for this book and selecting the hymns to include. I think I’ll start the book with a chapter on The Psalms and how these songs have been sung historically as well as ways they are being sung today. (I’m sure that train of thought is what triggered Psalm 1 to start playing in my mind.)
The Bible encourages us in many places to sing to the Lord. And over the centuries, we have been prolific in our response. Thousands of hymns have their roots in one or more of the 150 Psalms included in the Bible. For example, the online resource hymnary.org (one of my new best friends) identified Psalm 23 as the source of 344 hymns. Psalm 23 is rich in imagery of God as our shepherd. Each hymn of the 344 hymns listed on this web directory built upon this imagery. Some of my favorites among these hymns are:
- The Lord Is My Shepherd
- The Lord’s My Shepherd, I’ll not Want
- The King of Love My Shepherd Is
- He Leadeth Me
- Savior, Like a Shepherd Lead Us
- All the Way My Shepherd Leads Me
- God Leads Us Along
- God Will Take Care of You
- O Love that Wilt not Let Me Go
- Day By Day
- Surely Goodness and Mercy
- Lead Me, Guide Me
Each hymn can trigger a slightly different conversation with God, although they are all based on the same general image of God as our shepherd. Every one of these combinations of words and music enables us to “pray twice” to God – to pray with our mind, body, and soul. The most usual result of the prayerful conversations based on Psalm 23 is that our troubled soul is comforted, and that pleases God as much as it pleases us.
This newest writing project of mine is bigger than I thought it was going to be, but I love the digressions it’s leading me along – even if I experience a bit of frustration along the way. Whether I ever remember all the music of the Blessed Is the Man…” anthem I sang with the church choir when I was in in high school, or not, I’ve been blessed by remembering one of my earliest and most dramatic experiences of “praying twice.”
O come, let us sing to the LORD!
Let us shout joyfully to the Rock of our salvation.
Let us come before His presence with thanksgiving;
Let us shout joyfully to Him with psalms.
Psalm 95:1-2 – New King James Version