Music speaks to the deepest parts of my heart and spirit like absolutely nothing else. I come from a musical family and was raised in a church that provided me the space to learn, grow an experience what it meant to worship God through this amazing expression. There are particular songs that I will always associate with specific periods or events of my life, and all I need to hear is an opening chord or the first few bars and, like tapping into a sense memory, I feel that time again.
I think most people would agree that music has the similar impact. Whether it’s an old song, taking us back to our childhood, a ballad we listened to over and over after a break-up or a current hit that we can’t get enough of, music makes us feel something, and I can’t imagine….really can’t imagine our world without its influence and beauty.
The Bible’s book of Psalms is a book of poetry, but also poetry meant to be sung (think hymnal.) Its language is rich in visually descriptive words and phrases that paint a picture the Psalmist wants us to see, much like any song writer. Take these words from Psalm 42:1…
“As the deer pants for water, so my soul longs for you, O God. Your waves break over me. Why are you downcast, O my soul? Hope in God.”
Can’t you just see a beautiful, stately deer at the water’s edge, bending down for a cool, refreshing drink after a long, hot afternoon. Then the beautiful comparison to how the Psalmist’s soul longed for God in the same way draws such an intimate and dramatic picture of desire! “Your waves break over me. Why are you downcast, O my soul? Hope in God.” The songwriter is saying that, though there are big, scary waves crashing all around, God’s waves didn’t pummel him flat, but rather broke over him, keeping him safe from harm. I would have loved to have penned those words, though I think we all know by now if I had, there would be at least one exclamation point at the end….and maybe even an emoticon or two!” =)
When I spend any time at all in the Psalms, apart from appreciating the beautifully descriptive language, I always find myself wondering….what did the music sound like? If the words were meant to be sung, then that means each song had a purposeful tone and tune. I’m sure for generations the music behind these poems were passed down in oral (and musical) tradition, until they eventually became lost over time, but how incredible it would be to be able to hear, sing and play them in their original state!
Some passages from the Bible have definitely become woven into the fabric of our lives, and the 23rd Psalm is perhaps one of the most readily recognized. It’s poetry has brought comfort to the grieving at countless funerals and gravesides, and is probably the most requested passage for those occasions. (I know this because I took a scientific survey of all of the ordained ministers living in my house….and then tallied the results. He concurred!) David, the poet of Psalm 23, grew up tending sheep, and he knew something about the importance of resting them. He also had a deep, deep love for God and a heart to serve him (well….most of the time!) The way he took his life experiences and wove them into a song that reflected God’s care for us was no doubt inspired by God to touch the hearts of millions upon millions to come, long after the shepherd became King, or the tune was lost to time….it was also meant for us right now, on Day 17 of Lent.
Unfortunately, we don’t know the music of the psalms, but there is another way we can appreciate these ancient Hebrew poems in a new way, and that is simply by reading them in a translation, or version that is different than we’re accustomed to. Today as I was looking through my copy of “The Message” (a paraphrase of the Bible by Eugene Peterson), I was struck by the power of reading such a familiar passage in different language – and the inspired truth of God’s word remains! I share it here with you today as a gift of poetry….a muse for musical inspiration, and mostly as a reminder to us all that God has never and will never leave us alone….even for a second! He’s prepared a way in, a way out, and a way around everything we will face in this day, and reassures us that there really IS a plan to this life. Our part is to just trust Him through it……. and to rest with Him beside the calm waters once in a while.
“God, my shepherd! I don’t need a thing.
You have bedded me down in lush meadows, you find me quiet pools to drink from.
True to your word, you let me catch my breath and send me in the right direction.
Even when the way goes through Death Valley, I’m not afraid when you walk at my side.
Your trusty shepherd’s crook makes me feel secure.
You serve me a six-course dinner right in front of my enemies.
You revive my drooping head; my cup brims with blessing.
Your beauty and love chase after me every day of my life.
I’m back home in the house of God for the rest of my life.”