Sunday, August 9, 2009
The Rev. Natasha Brubaker Garrison
Year B, Proper 14
“For he that singeth praise, not only praiseth, but only praiseth with gladness: he that singeth praise, not only singeth, but also loveth him of whom he singeth. In praise, there is the speaking forth of one confessing; in singing, the affection of one loving.” Now that’s a mouthful, isn’t it? Most of us know this quote of St. Augustine in its much more abbreviated form: He who sings prays twice. Music has always been a central part of human life and religious expression. From simple yet powerful chanting to the glories of Bach’s B minor Mass it is a way we connect to the holy, to the divine. For many of us music is the easiest way for us to pray or to feel a tie to God. I know that in my life music is to me the language of God for it transcends the limits of words and reaches places inside my spirit that nothing else can; it is a language beyond language. Some physicists imagine the world’s smallest particle is like a vibrating string. And while it has yet to be proved and there is always another mystery to the structure of the universe there is something so amazing and gorgeous to me of thinking that the entire creation could be seen as a musical composition. When I sing do I help keep the universe alive? And if the music stopped would creation crumble into nothingness? Is the reality of God like music on some deep level? Wonderful questions don’t you think?
Music is spiritual food for us. And while Jesus isn’t talking today about music as a metaphor for the bread of eternal life, music does feed us, comfort us, challenge us, and create us. It is eternal in that the chants and melodies survive through the generations, teaching and shaping us. The Israelites sang and danced before God; the Book of Psalms is a book of songs—a kind of hymnal if you will. As it says today praise of God will always be on my lips. Often that praise is a song. I find myself frequently humming a part of hymn that is special to me, such as the song we heard at the start of the last folk mass—“There is a Redeemer”. When I sing it I am making a little prayer to God and anchoring myself in God and my place in this world.
Music is one of the spiritual anchors of Resurrection. It is a beautiful and essential part of our worship and our outreach to the world. We are blessed with singers, musicians, an amazing instrument, and a people who rejoice in the prayer that is offered in song. Music is part of how Resurrection defines itself. I think that this is part of how most of us who come here would define our spiritual life—music is a basic part of it, part of how we know and experience God.
Last week during the announcements I shared with you an update on our music search process. Since late last summer when we learned of Betty Jean’s diagnosis of pancreatic cancer we have been moving through a time of transition. For the last half of the year a group of people came together and carried our music ministry through the end of the year. I cannot thank them enough for the incredible and loving work they did. During that time we called an interim parish musician, Caitlin, to join us and she did so in January.
This past year has been a time of healing and discernment. Healing in that the music ministry is deeper, richer and more cohesive. It is no secret that music here had been a point of hurt and division as well as a great gift. We have moved into a new place that is a joy to see. It was also a time of discernment as those who volunteered to take on roles discovered gifts and calls that had not been seen or fully recognized. We have learned that given our talents, our size and our nature as a parish a leadership team has worked amazingly well for us—parish musician, choir director, choristers director, folk mass and a group that works together to plan music. As it stands now, Lucy and Carrie will continue in their roles as choir and chorister directors. This has been a process of careful discernment, conversation and discovery. I think it’s fair to say that neither stepped into the role last fall expecting to stay in it for more than a few months. But rather than filling the gap, they have discovered a gift and a role that is right for Resurrection at this time. It has been the work of the Spirit in surprising and wonderful ways. This new structure and what will come of it is a new direction, a new step in our life that looks to a future where music continues to grow, thrive and take on new life.
Caitlin has been a great gift to us and a true joy to work with. Our interim time is over, and we are looking to finish our transition by moving into a permanent situation. And while the music search team initially believed that Caitlin would likely be whom we called to that position it turns out life has taken another path for her and her family. They will be returning to Colorado in a few weeks and while it is for good and wonderful reasons it is a sadness and a sorrow for us.
The music search team, which is comprised of Sam Smith, Jim Crosswhite, Lucy Strandlein, Carrie Warner, Corie Warner, Mark Turner, Mari Dole, Marcia Callis, Christian Pich, Ivy Duncan, Lee Anne Robertson, Richard Heinzkill and myself, has mapped out a process for keeping all of us in touch and informed about the process. For instance, updates of our meetings are posted on the music bulletin board in the hallway. My article in this past Tune In was a brief synopsis of our work and progress. We agreed that this Sunday would be the day I used the sermon time to share in more detail the work and process of the music search team. We also agreed early on that the community must be included meaningfully in this process.
There are two vital and important roles (and probably others I’m not naming) for the congregation. First and foremost, pray for us and for this process. Second, we need your ideas, your hopes, your thoughts and dreams for music. Liturgy is to feed and nourish us; music is central to that. If the music is not feeding you than we must find the way so that it does. If it could feed you more deeply, we want know how to get us there. To that end the music search team has created the music questionnaire. It is not so much a survey as it is a chance for you to respond to open ended questions. We need and want to hear your voice. If you don’t have the copy that was sent in your newsletter, there is one in your bulletin today. It will have a repeat appearance next Sunday. There are extras posted on the music bulletin board in the hallway above the water fountain. Envelopes to return your responses on are the same bulletin board and on the table just by the main doors. You may email me your responses if that is easier.
Some us don’t like to write and prefer to share our ideas with someone in person. I know; I’m one of them. On Sunday, the 23rd of August, we will create two such opportunities. Lucy, Caitlin and Mari will be leading the Christian Formation time at 9:30. Come to learn and share. After the 10:30 worship the music search team will be providing a special coffee hour outside with tasty food and beverages. Team members will make themselves visible through wearing a fun hat or other easily spotted item, such as a boa! We will be ready with paper and pencil to hear your thoughts and ideas. From what we hear, the information will be shared with the candidates to see if what we desire fits with their vision and abilities.
Thus, we are now preparing to interview candidates for the position of parish musician. The posting went out on Wednesday morning and there have already been applications received. This person will be someone who can work collaboratively within the music ministry structure that has emerged as well as having energy and vision for where we can go. The person we call needs to have enthusiasm for how music will expand and increase both within our liturgical life and our evangelism to the community. This person will need to be someone that can work with Lucy and Carrie and me closely, positively, and as a complementary team.
As the rector I do have the final say in the hiring decision as the liturgical buck and authority stop with me, and it is critical that this person and I mesh well for we work in very close partnership. When the musician and priest do not have a good working relationship things almost always disintegrate into a power struggle, and tension and conflict infect the congregation—this is the last thing I desire for Resurrection. However, the process of interviewing candidates and prayerfully discussing who is best for us at this point in time and into the future will be done by the team. I trust that we will arrive together at the person God is calling to be here. Please check the music bulletin board to see the job posting. The hope is to begin interviewing qualified candidates in September. The interview will include a time of Q&A with the search team, playing a couple of pieces for that team, and rehearsing with the choristers and choir for all candidates. My hope is that we will have the new musician in place by no later than the first part of October.
Ultimately, this music is for the glory of God and for us to glorify God with through our voices and hearts. What opens you up, what helps you find yourself in the presence of the holy, and what makes your song a twice-rich prayer is what music here should do. That is the service of music and liturgy to you and to this larger place we call home. It feeds us and can be the invitation to others who are hungry to come in and find a God that loves them and treasures them. Through music we can be a door way into finding that place where we and those who are seeking can taste and see that the Lord is good.