The Rebellion of Harmony

Old Hymnals

I love to sing.  Loudly.  (Last night, at choir practice, I think someone actually moved away from me, to preserve their hearing.)  I’m not very good, but singing has always been important to me.

Of course, being a PK/MK and always at church–always, always at church–Hymns were the earliest music I learned.  And, the once-a-month Sunday night “Pick Your Favorite Hymn” night was my favorite.  Not only could I wear polyester slacks or–on the crazy rare occasion–jeans that night to church, which was preferable to a dress for so many, many, many different reasons, but I also was pretty much guaranteed to get the chance to sing my favorite hymns.  Loudly.

  • Victory in Jesus “He plunged me, to VIIIICTORY….” (This song is best sung with a healthy dose of twang)
  • Footprints of Jesus (that make the pathway glow….so, how does that work, exactly?  Someone explain it to me, ’cause I imagine Jesus stepping in a vat of glow-in-the-dark paint and stomping around making awesome footprints)
  • Shall We Gather at the River (the beautiful, the beautiful)
  • Since Jesus Came Into My Heart (Extra points if whoever got assigned (stuck) leading worship that night held out the words “Siiiinnnccee” and “Rollllllllllll” for a couple of extra measures.)
  • Wonderful Grace of Jesus (Now, this was just fun to sing)
  • There is a Balm in Gilead (And this one was just fun to giggle at.  Poor Gilead got blown up by the bomb, repeatedly)

Early on, I somehow figured out how to sing harmony to the hymns.  I’m not exactly sure when or how that started.  I don’t remember anyone every really teaching me how, it just sort of happened.  And when I started taking piano lessons (O, Alicia and Joy, if you happen to read this, how did your poor mother put up with all of us?) and learned about chords, it gave me a name or structure to what I was singing.  Before that, I just sang what I thought sounded good, notes that seemed to “fit” the note that everyone else was singing.  (though I’m quite certain that many times, it did not.  Sound good that is.  Loud, always, though.  Loudly wrong, I’m sure.)

Part of what I liked, in singing different notes from everyone else, was exactly that–I thought singing what everyone else was singing was boring.  I thought it sounded prettier if there were different notes mixed in.  I wanted to be different.  A little bit of rebellion, I suppose.  (Not really, I wanted everyone’s approval far too much to be rebellious.  Then. When I was young.  However, I certainly made up for that, in the years that followed.)

Fast forward far more years than I care to admit.  Much life has happened.  I have gone from trying so hard to please God–to make Him “happy” with me, as a young girl, to dissolving in rebellious confidence that He couldn’t possibly exist, to discovery of authors that think like I think, and a discovery of hope, too, and eventually an earnest, though sometimes-wobbling, faith that He is who scripture says He is.

And, kind of like how my–relationship to?  belief of?  faith in?–God has changed, so has my connection to hymns.

Before, they were fun to sing.  Now, many of them, are so precious to me.

Some I now recognize as consisting of bad theology.  But many are so solid, so foundational.  So scriptural.  Truth.

  • Be Thou My Vision
  • When I Survey the Wondrous Cross
  • Hallelujah, What a Savior
  • Blessed Redeemer
  • Arise My Soul, Arise
  • All I Have is Christ

And so many others.

One morning this past week, friends from my church pulled into my driveway.  They brought me a gift worth more than gold to me—a box full of musty, old books.  (A thousand thank-you’s, Tim and Kay!)  Goodness, what a priceless gift.  I couldn’t believe it.  Such a gift.  Most were hymn books, published in the late 1800s.  (The picture above is just a small sample of what they gifted me with.)  Small, little volumes with tiny notes and tiny print, that I imagine were held by hundreds of hands.

And now, here I am, 141 years later, holding these treasures in my hands.  And marveling at the words on the pages.

Some hymns make me chuckle.  Like the one “Sung by the congregation, to the pastor, to welcome him back home to his congregation after he has sojourned.”  And, my favorite:  “Ask Me Not to Sip the Wine”  (Oh ask me not to sip the wine, the sparkling ruby wine, In ev’ry drop a serpent lurks, to sting the trusting heart, And lure it from all love-ly things For ev-er-more to part.)  Hmm.  But, still.  Very funny.

Some hymns, though, penetrate both my mind and soul a bit.

“Praise, my soul, the God that sought thee,

Wretched wanderer, far astray;

“Found thee lost and kindly brought thee

From the paths of death away;”

And so many others.

I imagine folks sitting in old, clapboard churches, fanning themselves because no air conditioning of course.  Little ones nodding off drowsily.  Mischievious ones plotting their after-church exploits.  Mom’s pinching the mischievious ones for not paying attention.  And, everyone singing. Loudly.

In four-part harmony.

I think it is the harmony that gets me.  The words, always and yes.  The longest collection of words in scripture are honest words and prayers put to music.  I love that.  I cherish words.

But, I also cherish harmony.

Singing harmony is kind of like saying to God:  God, I know scripture is truth.  And I know these words I’m singing are truth.  God, I know that you are God.  You have to be.  Please be.  Please.  More than tradition.  Be real.  Make this mess that I have made of my life, not so discordant.

And, when we sing harmony,  there is truth in doing so, that John Piper describes as this:

When we all sing the same melody line, it is called unison, which means “one sound.” But when we unite diverse lines of soprano and alto and tenor and bass, we call it harmony; and everyone who has an ear to hear knows that something deeper in us is touched differently by great harmony than by mere unison. (Piper)

There is beauty in the unity that comes from “one sound”, or unison.  But there is a richness in the uniting of “diverse lines”, that points to something deeper, something beyond the melody, to the richness and fullness found in the one to whom the words point us to.

A rebellion that says “You are more than one-dimensional.  You are more than tradition.  You are God.  You are real.  You are real.  And You we worship.”

……be filled with the Spirit, 19 addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart, 20 giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ….

Ephesians 5:18-21



I am, this morning, so incredibly discouraged.  Deeply saddened.

My plate is full today–work, parenting–and yet I can’t seem to get out from underneath this ache in order to get moving.

I should take great encouragement in the midst of sharp alone-ness from the many, many scriptures that declare that God will never leave, nor forsake.  And, I do.  Deuteronomy 31:8.  Deuteronomy 31:6.  Joshua 1:9.  Matthew 28:20.  The list of scripture is long.  And, I’m fighting to grasp these truths.  I am grateful they are there.

But, good grief, this ache is so sharp.

It is made of all things ugly—first and foremost, my ugly, ugly sin.  Why am I so like Paul, continually doing the things I despise; his words are mine:  nothing good dwells in me.

And other things, too painful to put in words that are public and not pass-word protected and tucked away.

My heart—my soul–is failing this morning.

And so, I am finding the words of Psalm 73:23-26 to be like Bactine to me this morning.  Do you remember Bactine?  I don’t even know if they make it any more.  It’s the spray that the school nurse would use on your knees, when you’d go flying across the blacktop during recess and trip over an untied shoelace, and take a layer of skin off.  (Or maybe only I did that.  Weekly.)  You’d limp to the nurse, holding a bloody paper towel to your knee, and she’d roughly clean it off and then spray Bactine on it to make it better.  But, it didn’t feel like she was making it better, because Bactine stung.  Like crazy.  That’s what these verses are, to my raw soul (and knees) this morning:

 Nevertheless, I am continually with you;
    you hold my right hand.
24 You guide me with your counsel,
    and afterward you will receive me to glory.
25 Whom have I in heaven but you?
    And there is nothing on earth that I desire besides you.
26 My flesh and my heart may fail,
    but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.

Whom have I in heaven, but God?  My flesh and my heart are failing.  They are failing.  But I must work.  I must provide for my family.  I deeply want to care well for those God has brought into my world, who are hurting and shattered, as we meet today.  I must go to the grocery store.  I must figure out what is wrong with my stupid van, again.  I must pay the bills that are due today, and take my girl to violin lessons, and my boy to his soccer game.  But, o my soul, how my flesh and heart are failing.

God is the strength of my heart.  Bactine.  Whom have I in heaven, but you?  Bactine.  Nevertheless, I am continually with you.  Bactine.  You hold me my right hand.  Bactine.  God is my portion forever.  Bactine.  There is nothing on earth that I desire besides you.  Bactine.

These words sting.  I’m not sure why, they just do.  They hurt.  But sometimes we need Bactine to keep the infection of despair at bay.  Why, soul, are you downcast?  Hope in God.  Hope in God.

And afterward, you will receive me to glory.

Yes, please.

Thy Hope, Thy Confidence, Let Nothing Shake

Be Still My Soul
Sometimes, I can’t find words.
Sometimes, I have to borrow the words of others.
This morning is one such time.
Be still, my soul, The Lord is on thy side.
Bear patiently, The cross of grief or pain.
Leave to thy God, to order and provide.
In every change, He faithful will remain.
Be still, my soul, Thy best they heavenly Friend.
Through thorny ways, Leads to a joyful end.
Be still, my soul, thy God doth undertake.
To guide the future as He has the past.
Thy hope, thy confidence, let nothing shake.
All now mysterious shall be bright at last.
Be still, my soul, the waves and wind still know.
His voice who ruled them while He dwelt below.
In You I rest, In You I found my hope.
In You I trust, You never let me go.
I place my life within Your hands alone.
Be still, my soul.
Be still, my soul, the hour is hastening on.
When we shall be forever with the Lord.
When disappointment, grief and fear are gone.
Sorrow forgot, Love’s purest joys restored.
Be still, my soul, when change and tears are past.
All safe and blessed, we shall meet at last.
Be still, my soul
Be still, my soul
~ Be Still My Soul (Kathrina von Schlegel, 1855)



I think that maybe, that’s what I need, God.

To recalibrate my mind.  My soul.

But I can’t seem to do it.  I’ve tried.  I’ve failed.  I am failing.

Paul tells us to not be conformed to this world, but to be transformed by the renewing of our mind.

He makes it sound so easy.  He makes it sound so cross-stitch.  He makes it sound so memorizable.

But it’s not.

Well, it is memorizable.  But it’s not so easy.

To deliberately and systematically and with great determination fight against the pull to conform to this world takes a great deal of energy.  At least, it seems that way.  The world gets so in the way.  I get in the way.  I am in the way.

And then, Paul goes on to provide a sort of laundry-list of what marks a true Christ follower.  Stuff like “ Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer.”  And much more.  Rejoice.  Be patient.  Be constant.  Be all the things that I wish I was.  Do all the things that I say I’m going to do.  Be hospitable.  Abhor the evil.  Do not seek vengeance,  Overcome evil with good.  Love with brotherly love.

But, God, I am failing.  At all of those things.

Sin is easy, God.  This list from Paul is not.  Sin is the easy route.  I like to pride–ugly, constant pride–myself on not ever taking the easy road in life, as sort of a ‘badge of courage”, but that’s not really true.  I do take the easy road.  So often.  I take it in the form of cynicism.  Of bitterness.  Of building a fort around both my mind and soul–impenetrable.  Granite.   I feel nothing God.

Nothing but blinding cold out here on the beach.  At 5:17 am.  Goodness, it is bitter cold.  Much colder than I thought it would be.  I wanted the idea of “church on the beach” during this last full day here at the condo.  I suppose I wanted some “kum-by-yah” moment, as ridiculous as that sounds.  I wanted to see the sunrise this morning.  I wanted to see evidence of you.  I wanted to be able to echo Thomas in seeing that evidence.  But my soul, it is cold out here.  Shockingly so, the wind off the ocean.  And dark.  This wasn’t what I expected.

But maybe this is what I need.  Maybe this is what I deserve.

Not the beauty of the sunrise.  Not the stereotypical “O, look, I see God in the sunrise” experience.  Maybe what I need–maybe what I deserve–is the shock of the cold out here.  I’m huddled under a stolen blanket to protect my laptop (I most certainly should not have this down here–I didn’t think that through.  God?  Do you protect laptops?) from ocean spray and blowing sand, but it’s still so cold.  This plastic chair I also stole from our deck to bring down here offers little protection as well.  My fingers burn from the cold.  My nose is runny.  My ears are numb.  And my eyes are full of tears–not because I’m sad.  I’m not.  If anything, I’m sinfully angry.

Ok, maybe there is some sadness, as well.  Complete honesty and all that, I suppose.  But that’s not why there are tears.  No, these tears are because this crazy cold wind keeps forcing the tears out.  I can barely see to type.

The cold is shocking.

When a heart is experiencing an attack and stops beating, the paramedics grab the defibrillator to shock it back into rhythm.

God, shock my soul back into rhythm, here on this beach.

Recalibrate my soul to the gospel, God.  I don’t need a tune-up.  I don’t need a jump-start.  I don’t need a vacation.

I need a shock.  A life-giving shock.

Recalibrate my soul, o God.