Sunday, 10 October 2010

Songs of Praise

"Give thanks to the Lord, declare His Name; make His acts known among the nations. Sing to Him, make music to Him, speak of all His wonders. Glory in His holy Name; may the heart of those who seek the Lord be glad." 1 Chronicles 16:8-10

I have to say I am a great enthusiast for hymns. And despite what might be a crime against music and human ears, I receive great joy by singing them. (Luckily God gave me my voice, and so surely He can't complain!) And I have a particular soft spot for a good old traditional English hymn sung by an awe inspiring traditional choir. I like the upbeat ones that blow the feelings of melancholy away but also the quiet moving ones that take the breath away as they flood one with feelings of deep spirituality. And who can doubt the joy that comes from people singing together? I am sure some evolutionary reason has been offered for why human beings derive such pleasure from communal singing, but I personally believe that it is the soul of man yearning to be part of something bigger than itself that is the ultimate reason for that sublime pleasure. And the power of voices united together as one, in praise of the Only One, does not fail to reduce me to tears of spiritual ecstasy. One of my favourite hymns is "Come Down, O Love Divine".

"Come down O love divine
Seek thou this soul of mine,
And visit it with thine own ardour glowing:
O Comforter, draw near,
Within my heart appear,
And kindle it, thy holy flame bestowing."

How unutterably amazing it is, that the Creator of the cosmos, the Author of existence itself, is knowable to us. That we can bind our lives to Him. He who sustains the nucleus of an atom in a star millions of light years away, is at this moment sustaining our lives, comforting us and listening to our thoughts and prayers. How he seeks to bind our souls to His ultimate reality and set them ablaze with a passion to emulate His goodness, and draw ever closer to him. There can be little doubt about the power of a human heart inflamed with religious passion. Like all "fire" however, this can either bring warmth and illumination to millions or ignite conflagrations that destroy almost without control. This danger is ever present and must be mitigated against.

"O let it freely burn.
Till earthly passions turn
To dust and ashes in its heat consuming;
And let Thy glorious light,
Shine ever on my sight
And clothe me round, the while my path illuming"

If one has ever been blessed to spend time in the presence of a person who has devoted their life to God, who's relationship to The Holy One is passionate and deep, the more one realises that the pleasures of this world (as beautiful and important as they are) can never create that inner satisfaction that only comes when one's life is lived illuminated by the awareness of God's presence. Happiness, tranquillity and some ethereal quality seems to shine from their face in a minor reflection of what was reported in the Bible concerning Moses and Jesus:

"When the Children of Israel saw Moses' face, that Moses' face had become radiant" Exodus 34:35. "And he (Jesus) was transfigured before them, his face shone like the son"Matthew 17:2.

Could such a person demean him or herself as can so often be seen on reality TV, for the sake of transitory fame, money or a celebrity lifestyle? Let alone violate the will of their Father in Heaven to chase after what is ultimately meaningless?

"Let holy charity
Mine outward vesture be,
And lowliness become my inner clothing;
True lowliness of heart
Which takes the humbler part,
And o'er its own shortcomings weeps with loathing"

Are humility and charity related? It is often the case that the most charitable people are also the most humble but is this cause and effect or simply coincidence? What is the prime motivation behind loving kindness? In my opinion it is a focus on the needs of others and a desire to help them. The charitable person gives less thought to himself and his needs and dedicates himself to his fellow man as a result. He or she is willing to suffer the discomfort and occasional unpleasantness that serving others can induce. She is willing to get up out of a warm and cosy bed early on a freezing winter morning, to go and help an irritable elderly neighbour. A person who is focused on him or herself, on his needs and comforts, who feels others should be serving him will find it difficult to be charitable. Someone who believes herself too important to lower herself to having to suffer the ingratitude of others will not excel in charity. So yes true lowliness of heart is absolutely vital to an outward vesture of charity. But what prevents someone from feeling that he is worth more than someone else? To recognise and be cognizant of one's shortcomings and to never forget that as individuals we each have a unique set of influences and inherent traits, and that God does not compare us to each other, but demands from us only the best we can do, would go along way to help diminish that sense of arrogant self importance. Who am I to judge another as being less that me? Perhaps my neighbour, despite his flaws, is living up to what God expects from him while I might be failing to do what God expects from me. A beautiful Jewish law illustrates the inherent, equal value of us all. Murder is one of three cardinal sins that a person is required to die before transgressing. So even if a King is asked to save his life by taking the life of a reprehensible peasant, he should die before doing so. To judge others as less than ourselves is to deny the Fatherhood of God.

"And so the yearning strong,
With which the soul will long,
Shall far outpass the power of human telling;
For none can guess its grace,
Till we become the place
Wherein the Holy Spirit makes a dwelling."

Let us make ourselves into temples of the Eternal Living God. What would we call our world if the Divine traits of compassion, mercy, love, fairness, justice, lovingkindness shone bright in the hearts of humankind? Well let us let our master Jesus teach us;

"The Kingdom of God does not come with observation, nor will they say "see here" or "see there!" For indeed the Kingdom of God is within you." Luke 17:21.

The Kingdom of God that is what we would call it, and it is within us, it is up to us to allow Him to rule in our hearts.

"God be in my head, and in my understanding
God be in my eyes and in my looking
God be in my mouth and in my speaking
God be in my heart and in my thinking
God be at mine end, and at my departing.

As Hillel said: "If not now when". Let us start from this moment to live with the full awareness of God's presence in our life and brick by brick we will build a holy edifice a "Jerusalem in England's green and pleasant land".

1 comment:

Steve said...

A profound analysis yet again. I wish I had your way with words!