Sunday, 17 July 2011

Saul and David - the power of music to heal

AFter three and a half years as our Pastoral Assistant, Becky has moved on and today we were joined in our evening service by the Rev Robert Pestell of St Luke's and St Michael's to wish Becky well for the future and to pray God's blessing on all that lies ahead.

There is something about music that has caught the imagination in every generation … and yet remains an enigma.

Today’s a significant day as we say farewell to Becky – and got Becky to welcome on our behalf as her last task in church with us James and Sheila into church membership.

Thank you so much to James for sharing martin Luther’s views on music in the magazine – what an inspiration!

To all lovers of the liberal art of music Dr Martin Luther wishes grace and peace from God the Father and our Lord Jesus Christ.

With all my heart I would extol the precious gift of God in music, but I scarcely know where to begin or end.

There is nothing on earth that has not its tone.

Even the air invisible sings when smitten with a staff.

Among the beasts and the birds song is still more marvelous.

David, himself a musician, testifies with amazement to the song of the birds.
What then shall I say of the voice of man, to which naught else may be compared?
The heathen philosophers have striven in vain to explain how the tongue of man can express the thoughts of the heart in speech and song, through laughter and lamentation.

Music is to be praised as only second to the Word of God, because by her are the emotions swayed.

Nothing on earth is more mighty to make the sad gay and the gay sad, to hearten the downcast, mellow the overweening, temper the exuberant, or mollify the vengeful.
The Holy Spirit himself pays tribute to music when he records that the evil spirit of Saul was exorcised as David played on his harp.

The fathers desired that music should always abide in the Church.
That is why there are so many songs and psalms.

This precious gift has been bestowed on men alone to remind them that they are created to praise and magnify the Lord.

But when natural music is sharpened and polished by art, then one begins to see with amazement the great wisdom of God in his wonderful work of music, where one voice takes a simple part and around it sing three, four or five other voices, leaping, springing round about, marvelously gracing the simple part, like a square dance in heaven with friendly bows, embracings, and hearty swinging of partners.

He who does not find this an inexpressible miracle of the Lord is not worthy of being considered a man.

Submitted by James Martin




Following in the footsteps of Martin Luther came Bach with the way he set so much of the Lutheran liturgy to music. How wonderful to sit in the newly re-furbished Lutheran Church in the heart of Dresden and hear a small orchestra and organ accompany the music with a prelude and fugue played as it was intended.

For Karl Barth it was Mozart who was the epitome of what is wonderful in music. Mozart had the capacity to balance the dark and the light, harmony and disharmony, and so touch the reality of the world of God’s creation. Often in his music light comes only out of darkness. Symphony 88 in G minor is such an example. It was significant for Barth that Mozart was composing at the time when the whole of Europe was profoundly troubled by the Lisbon earthquake. Many people called in question their faith, asking how God could allow such suffering. Theologians struggle to find words to express their response … and often failed. Karl Barth suggested that it was in the music of Mozart that a response was found where words failed.

That resonated for me thinking of the awfulness of the Japanese earthquake, hard on the heels of the Haiti and Chile earthquakes. On the night of the Japanese earthquake Daniel Harding, whose parents once belonged to Highbury, was In Tokyo conducting the Japanese Philharmonic orchestra in Mahler’s 6th symphony. The orchestra insited on going ahead with the concert. Fewer than a hundred people made it to the 2000 seater venue. Among them, an elderly man who had struggled to walk across the city. It was, commented Daniel Harding afterwards, a most moving experience. Not least because Mahler’s sixth is all about death and resurrection – the light only emerging from the dark. Composed out of the maelstrom of Mahler’s only personal anguish at the lost of a child.

I was intrigued in making comments about music in one service when Richard Sharpe lent me a book I must return by Norman Goodall, Big Bangs – The story of five discoveries that changed musical history. In that book Howard Goodall explains the way Western musicians four hundred years ago adapted nature and its sound as a result of which we westerners regard everything that is not tuned in a way we would call proper to be out of tune, dissonant. The music of the’rest of the world’ often sounds alien to our ears because it does not manipulate nature in the way western music does.

But for us it is a triumph.

Music has a power to resonate deep within in a special kind of way.

I know how much Becky has valued music that means a great deal to her.

Today is the release of music track and video that is going head to head with Lady Gaga’s single on Judas – Tara Matthews Just three days – sounds fascinating – I am hoping Becky might be able to track it down and download it! www.in3days.org
There is music to inspire, to challenge, to rouse us to action, to soothe us and calm us. Music to relax by. And each of us will have that special music that means so much to us.

It is something that goes back a long way.

Saul was deeply troubled.

And one was found who could soothe him.

An ancient tradition that associates David with music.

I guess middle eastern music, Hebrew music, Arabic music will give a taste of what it must have been like.

About a third of the |Psalms are attributed to David – some of them are linked to moments in his life that are precious.

The headings are much later than the Psalms – but interesting – they suggest the kind of music and the kind of musicians that would have sung them in the temple.

I feel they give us a glimpse of how that music worked – and how soothing came.

It’s interesting that the book of Psalms is in fact five books. Each book of Psalms concludes with a doxology. And you can have the feeling that there have been ordered in theh way they have been for a set reason.

I love collections of poetry that seek to do that. I have fallen in love with a trilogy of modern poetry volumes that do just that after hearing their editor, Neil Astley present a poetry reading at the Literature Festival.

Staying Alive, being Alive and Being Human are three anthologies that follow on from one another and take you three the various moods and seasons of life.

I love the sub-heading to the first anthology Real Poems for Unreal times. It was put together hard on the heels of 9/11 and caught the mood of anxiety that has been around in the last decade.

The poetry responds to that mood and captures a hope for life.

It is exactly as the poetry and if only we could access it the music of the psalms works too.

I want to dip into three of the psalms that are attributed to David and reflect on the way these may have been the kind of psalms, the kind of music that Saul found so soothing.

Psalm 22, Psalm 23 and Psalm 24.

Psalm 22 begins in the bleakest of ways, and touches on the awfulness of life at its worst.

Psalm 22
Plea for Deliverance from Suffering and Hostility
To the leader: according to The Deer of the Dawn. A Psalm of David.
My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?
Why are you so far from helping me, from the words of my groaning?
O my God, I cry by day, but you do not answer;
and by night, but find no rest.

Yet you are holy,
enthroned on the praises of Israel.
In you our ancestors trusted;
they trusted, and you delivered them.
To you they cried, and were saved;
in you they trusted, and were not put to shame.

But I am a worm, and not human;
scorned by others, and despised by the people.
All who see me mock at me;
they make mouths at me, they shake their heads;
‘Commit your cause to the LORD; let him deliver—
let him rescue the one in whom he delights!’

Yet it was you who took me from the womb;
you kept me safe on my mother’s breast.
On you I was cast from my birth,
and since my mother bore me you have been my God.
Do not be far from me,
for trouble is near
and there is no one to help.

Many bulls encircle me,
strong bulls of Bashan surround me;
they open wide their mouths at me,
like a ravening and roaring lion.

I am poured out like water,
and all my bones are out of joint;
my heart is like wax;
it is melted within my breast;
my mouth is dried up like a potsherd,
and my tongue sticks to my jaws;
you lay me in the dust of death.

For dogs are all around me;
a company of evildoers encircles me.
My hands and feet have shrivelled;
I can count all my bones.
They stare and gloat over me;
they divide my clothes among themselves,
and for my clothing they cast lots.

But you, O LORD, do not be far away!
O my help, come quickly to my aid!
Deliver my soul from the sword,
my life from the power of the dog!
Save me from the mouth of the lion!

From the horns of the wild oxen you have rescued me.
I will tell of your name to my brothers and sisters;
in the midst of the congregation I will praise you:
You who fear the LORD, praise him!
All you offspring of Jacob, glorify him;
stand in awe of him, all you offspring of Israel!
For he did not despise or abhor
the affliction of the afflicted;
he did not hide his face from me,
but heard when I cried to him.

From you comes my praise in the great congregation;
my vows I will pay before those who fear him.
The poor shall eat and be satisfied;
those who seek him shall praise the LORD.
May your hearts live for ever!

All the ends of the earth shall remember
and turn to the LORD;
and all the families of the nations
shall worship before him.
For dominion belongs to the LORD,
and he rules over the nations.

To him, indeed, shall all who sleep in the earth bow down;
before him shall bow all who go down to the dust,
and I shall live for him.
Posterity will serve him;
future generations will be told about the Lord,
and proclaim his deliverance to a people yet unborn,
saying that he has done it.


How wrong we are to imagine that the Psalms are full of praise.

This is a psalm that plumbs the depths. What kind of mood would this music have? It is dark, it is foreboding, there is a menace to it.

Jesus knew moments of anguish. We know at least three. AT the death of Lazarus. In Gethsemane. An on the cross. His cry of dereliction quotes the opening of this Psalm – was it that he valued its poetry, was it that he valued its music? Did it touch Jesus deep down?

Was this a song that David could have sung to Saul.

I feel sure it was.

Music that is real as it touches that unreality that we feel when overwhelmed by the world.

Sometimes it is good to find music that rages with us as we want to rage, even rage at God.

My God, my God why have you forsaken me?

As the music, the poetry and the prayer come alongside the one who is anguished.

Then the mood of the music changes.

There is a tranquillity and a calm that emerges.

And David moves on to the second of his sequence.

It is Psalm 23.

What wonderful words of calm!

Psalm 23 of David.

The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want.
He maketh me to lie down in green pastures:
he leadeth me beside the still waters.
He restoreth my soul:
he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness
for his name's sake.

Yea, though I walk
through the valley of the shadow of death,
I will fear no evil:
for thou art with me;
thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.

Thou preparest a table before me
in the presence of mine enemies:
thou anointest my head with oil;
my cup runneth over.

Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me
all the days of my life:
and I will dwell in the house of the LORD for ever.


From the rage, to the calm … and now comes the hope.

Things are in place once again.

There is that harmony that Martin Luther speaks of.

Things are put together again.

All is right with the world.

Of David. A Psalm.
The earth is the LORD’s and all that is in it,
the world, and those who live in it;
for he has founded it on the seas,
and established it on the rivers.

Who shall ascend the hill of the LORD?
And who shall stand in his holy place?
Those who have clean hands and pure hearts,
who do not lift up their souls to what is false,
and do not swear deceitfully.
They will receive blessing from the LORD,
and vindication from the God of their salvation.
Such is the company of those who seek him,
who seek the face of the God of Jacob.
Selah

Lift up your heads, O gates!
and be lifted up, O ancient doors!
that the King of glory may come in.
Who is the King of glory?
The LORD, strong and mighty,
the LORD, mighty in battle.
Lift up your heads, O gates!
and be lifted up, O ancient doors!
that the King of glory may come in.
Who is this King of glory?
The LORD of hosts,
he is the King of glory.

Is this the route the music and the poetry of David took Saul to help him emerge from the awfulness of the times he was in?

Is this the route taken by Jesus …

Poetry that touched his anguish.

A wonderful poem that he took to heart as the Good Shepherd.

And the confidence that comes – Father into your hands I commit my spirit.

I would make one observation that to me is so very important.

I am not so sure that you can always jump straight to Psalm 24 and its confidence.

I feel sure that at times it is good to find someone in music, poetry and prayer coming alongside you in your agonising about life and the world.

But the reality here is that you cannot get from the sheer awfulness of Psalm 22 to the Confidence of Psalm 24 without going through Psalm 23.

Here is a wonderful route for all of us to follow.

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