There’s a prayer I say every time I go up to sing the psalm: Lord, speak through me today. Use my voice to reach your people.
This is a humble prayer, and with good reason…because I’m not. I think pride is built into the makeup of artistic people (imagine the ego: I put my words or music or voice or flute playing out there, and I expect you to sit and listen, read—and enjoy!)
I know what I’m good at, but I also know my failings. I spend an inappropriate amount of time worrying about whether my dress is hiked up in my pantyhose in the back, or whether there are perspiration spots under my arms. Stuff that has no place in the sharing of Scriptures, because it’s not about me.
On Sunday, I was even more distracted than usual. I’d been at church for two hours on Saturday night signing books, and I’d arrived that morning at 7:30 to do the same. So by 10:10, after running into church just as the Gloria was starting and slipping into place in the choir area, I barely had time to catch my breath when the reading from 2 Maccabees ended and it was time to go up to the ambo.
Part of the job of a psalmist is to pray over the words I am to sing ahead of time. I’ve never been very good at taking the time to do this, and in the kid era, it’s even worse. But this was a setting I wrote, and that makes a difference. The act setting Scripture to music—especially when it’s word for word, the way a psalm is—imprints those words in my consciousness, even if it’s buried somewhere beneath layers of busy-ness and distraction.
Sunday morning, I said my prayer as I walked up the steps. And I knew almost as soon as I started singing that I was in trouble, because the Spirit was staking me literally—speaking through me, to me.
“Hearken to my prayer from lips without deceit,” I sang, and humility rode the flat ninth straight to my core. Really? Lips without deceit? Aiya!
“My steps have been steadfast in your paths; my feet have not faltered.” Ouch! Really? Seriously? Surely the psalmist couldn’t have meant that! Whose steps haven’t faltered? Can’t I rewrite it to say, “I stumble around in your path, and hope I manage not to fall off it altogether.” Okay, so it’s not poetic, but it’s more authentic.
By the time I reached “But I in justice may behold your face…I shall be content in your presence,” something had happened, a musical alchemy in which knowledge of my own unworthiness to sing these words seared me. And as my soul cringed away from the light, I got out of my own way, and the Spirit took over. Suddenly, everything gelled—piano, drums, choir, assembly, and me—the music waxing and waning with the words of Scripture.
And it changed the celebration for me. Most Sundays, I lead the assembly in song, and lose my own spiritual food in the process—a true musical Martha, that’s me.
This week, I experienced music ministry.
Joining Emily at Chatting in the Sky