Culture inundates us with sounds, sights, textures, tastes, smells. Western noise floods every sense with diversions that keep us from meditating on God and his ways. I suggested to a young friend that hymns might help soothe him when he has trouble sleeping.
"Don't think so! I hate hymns," he replied. "They drive me crazy, like a busy Bach piece or random jazz. There's too much going on." Many people without a background in traditional Protestant churches or classical music would agree.
When W and I lived in Cambridge, UK, we enjoyed Evensong at the various colleges. On debate trips to the UK, students and I attend Evensong sung by one of the exceptional university choirs of Oxford or Cambridge as a cultural experience. Students and I sit with other tourists near the choir and reader, on hard benches facing the center aisle in cold, dark chapels. The music washes over us. Old and New Testament readings pour into the shadows between songs. Responsive readings from the Book of Common Prayer echo against stone walls. The discomfort of non-religious or world religious adherents is obvious: the Word, prayers, and music direct attention without apology to the living God and his expectations. I am always astonished at the indifference of the singers as they pour the tones into the air. They pass along Living Water without sipping it or drinking deeply themselves.
The music and lyrics of Evensong, written to glorify God, have been sung for decades or centuries, reminding us of God's faithful provision and constancy. I love the thick growls of the pipe organ that buzz and rumble through soles to scalp. The occasional bleat of an oboe or keening cry of the trumpet accompaniment gives me goose-bumps. The pure voices of young boys soar into the rafters, their innocent clarity and white choir robes denying sneaky shoves in the foyer before the preteens marched into the chapel.
I hope my young friend engages in worship within his own culture. My prayer is that he seeks out meaningful words, melodies, rhythms, and harmonies written by his peers, opening his heart to be drawn into God's presence.
Anyone desperate for well-sung, beautifully written hymns can enjoy old and new favorites online. UCB Media plays hymns at 7-9am Sundays (Greenwich time), and streams British and American "inspirational" worship music without commercials the rest of the week. (Another option is saturation in scripture as it's read aloud on UCB's "Bible" station.)
Whatever else we do today, let's take time to praise the Everlasting King!
*Praise the LORD!
Praise God in His sanctuary;
Praise Him in His mighty firmament!
Praise Him for His mighty acts;
Praise Him according to His excellent greatness!
Praise Him with the sound of the trumpet;
Praise Him with the lute and harp!
Praise Him with the timbrel and dance;
Praise Him with stringed instruments and flutes!
Praise Him with loud cymbals;
Praise Him with clashing cymbals!
Let everything that has breath praise the LORD.
Praise the LORD! (Psalm 150)