My heart became hot within me. As I mused, the fire burned; then I spoke with my tongue: "O Lord, make me know my end and what is the measure of my days; let me know how fleeting I am!"

01 May 2005

Hello's from the Lord's Day

This morning in Sunday School, I paused from our discussion of the Lord's Prayer to speak of the relationship between singing and praying. Several have asked me (1) why sing only the Psalms when there are other prayers of Scripture that seem appropriate for worship and (2) what's the difference between singing and praying? These are similar, but different questions. Here's a few thoughts:

  • Singing and vocal praying are, while similar, different physical actions. Singing requires the maintaining and modulation of tone; prayer does not carry the same concerns
  • Singing and praying are portrayed throughout Scripture as separate, though related actions
  • One of the similarities between praying and singing is that both are human language addressed to God
  • An oversimplification of the idea might be to say that singing is a subset of praying.
  • The reason the oversimplification doesn't work is that singing carries a function that praying doesn't - instruction. We do not pray to instruct each other, but we do sing to instruct each other (Col. 3:16); we address our prayers only to God, but we address our songs to God and to each other
  • Singing, by its very nature, is necessarily planned and coordinated. For the singers to sing well, they must sing the same thing. Thus, songs must be written, while prayers certainly do not have to be. Thus, song in worship is always regulated throughout Scripture; God's people are never given the freedom with song which they are given with prayer (namely, the freedom to compose songs for worship).
  • As for singing only Psalms, to the exclusion of the Magnificat, et al - God's act of closing (or completing & sealing) the Psalter was an act that had an implicit instruction to use only those songs. Since God delivered to us a book of songs, it is incumbent upon us to believe that it is complete
  • Another part of the above argument is that the praises and desires found in other Scriptural prayers are all to be found, in principal, in God's Psalter. It really is a complete manual of praise
This afternoon, I read a wonderful article in Books and Culture on Skellig Michael, a rock island (skeilic) in the Atlantic off the coast of Ireland. The essay is from a book by Daniel Taylor. Skellig Michael's significance is its housing of a monastery from the 6th to 8th centuries (roughly). Taylor does a great job describing the harshness of this rocky solitude and I was immediately attracted, on a gut level, to these monks. These monks who stole puffins' eggs, killed seals to trade their pelts, endured pillaging and murder by the Vikings, and recited up to 75 Psalms a day.

I believe monasticism makes sense to most Christians - that feeling that we aren't meant for the rat race, a yearning to put away the world in order to seek the divine, a sense that life is more than the everyday. But most believers also see the error in monasticism. It is not our call or prerogative to abandon this world, this world that is Christ's. So what to do with this tension? Immediately, this day of resurrection-celebration comes to mind. The Sabbath is our God-ordained monastic retreat. This is the day when the world gets put on hold, not because it's not real, but because it's not ultimate. This is the day when we give ourselves to seeking the things above, gathering with the like-minded and calling each other to more holiness, more worship, more prayer and obedience, more grace. Today is our monastic call to spiritual retreat and rest; tomorrow is our call for world conquest.

Taylor remarks on the monks' desire to be "fully recognised for what they were." (This fits well into the Sabbath idea) We live in a culture in which serious religious faith is slightly embarassing. Faith is seen as possibly a value - something hoped for - and not as a fact - something known. It is benign or even useful for food drives and homeless shelters, but ugly and even dangerous when it publicly asserts its claims to truth. Therefore it is asked to stay private, to speak only when spoken to, to stay in the corner and mind its very limited business. The Celtic Christians could not have imagined such a thing. All of life was to be organized in light of spiritual willing am I to organize my own life and actions and relationships around those spiritual truths that I claim should define every life?

1 comment:

Micah said...

Really interesting notes on the prayer/singing topic. And I was very interested in what the defense was for not using the not-in-the-Psalms prayers. I totally buy the very last point, that the Psalter has pretty much all the emotions we need to express. But the point above it - could you maybe expound? Especially about the 'implicit instruction' as God has closed the Psalter. This is all stuff I've been interested in, but hadn't gotten around to thinking about. Thanks again!