Advent 13: Psalm 150

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There’s an amazing amount of disagreement within the Church about the little things. Not least among these things is the music used for worship. The music is always too old, too new, too loud, too quiet, too archaic in its language, too repetitive, too boring, too upbeat, too full of guitars, too reliant on the organ…

Here’s the thing; when it comes to worship music, we are not the audience, we are the performers. The audience is just one; God.

It really doesn’t matter what style of music we sing or what instruments we use. When the psalmist talks about praising God with the harp, lyre, tambourine, cymbals, strings and pipes he is saying to praise God with whatever you have. You may not like the song, you may wish it was more modern or more traditional, but as long as you are singing it in a spirit of praise and worship that is all that matters. You are singing to God and, as long as you are singing with the right heart, he doesn’t care what the music is.

Let everything that has breath praise the Lord. However they are able to do so at the time.

Advent 11: Genesis 1 Isaiah 1:18 Psalm 51:1-10

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Its an emotional day for me today. 21 years ago today my Dad, Michael or Mick as everyone called him, died suddenly at the age of just 44. He was one of the friendliest, most outgoing, generous, caring and all round lovely guys you could ever meet. That’s not just the rose tinted glasses you always wear when looking back on someone who died young talking, but what anyone who knew him thought about him; the standing room only at Maidstone Crematorium for his funeral testifies to it as well.

I am now 41, meaning that it’s been over half my life since he died and I’ve had pretty much my whole adult life without him there to guide me.

I haven’t, however, been without any guidance. I’ve been able to turn to someone who has experienced everything; creation, destruction, joy, sorrow, life, death, freedom and suffering. He has taught, guided, celebrated, punished, and mourned with people since the beginning of time.

I try to follow what he teaches me, but I’m always getting it wrong. The thing is, I know that he’ll pick me up, clean me off and set me on my way again. I know he loves me, unconditionally, and will forgive my faults and failings because of this. Just like my Dad always did.

God is not a substitute for my Dad. He is so different to that. However, when I look at him acting like this towards me I can see why Jesus referred to him as “Father”; someone who is there to bring us up to be the best person we can be.

A year, nearly to the day, after Dad died, I became a father myself. My daughter turns 20 next week and its my intention to be here for her longer than my Dad was able to be. But he still influences me in how I am as a parent as well as how I relate to my Father in heaven. I always knew my Dad would be there for me and I know that God will be too.

(In loving memory of Michael Jalland: 21 January 1949 – 11 December 1993.)

Uncomfortably Slow

“Travelling again
I know exactly how it’s gonna end
The routine day dream starts as I get off
I’m holding up the queue
Because my ticket won’t go through
I know it should be simple but it’s not

So don’t take my photograph
Cos I don’t wanna know how it looks
To feel like this
As cars and people pass
It feels like standing still but I know
I’m just moving uncomfortably slow

Something’s gotta change
I know i’m lucky in a lot of ways
So why do I want more
Than what I have?
Brace myself to hear the lies
I wonder if they know that I
Don’t get the jokes but I just
Need to laugh

So don’t take my photograph
Cos I don’t wanna know how it looks
To feel like this
As cars and people pass
It feels like standing still but I know
I’m just moving uncomfortably slow”

The lyrics above are from the song ‘Uncomfortably Slow’ by Newton Faulkner off his album ‘Hand Built By Robots’ (Awesome album, buy it!). I was on the bus on my way to work this morning, listening to music on my phone when this song came on. I had a wry, somewhat joyless smile on my face as it neatly summed up how I have been feeling on my bad days, including the last 2-3 days.

“The routine daydream” is exactly that. Getting through on autopilot, as if it’s happening to someone else, but I still have to interact with everything and everyone. Humdrum, routine, same old thing day in, day out until it ceases to feel real. I really don’t want to know how it feels to look like this. Who does?

Hearing someone else articulating those feelings is somewhat comforting. It helps me to get out of the confines of my own head and realise that feeling this way is far from uncommon. Knowing that I’m not alone in going through this crap in my mind means that I can move away from feeling that I’m being totally self absorbed, but rather that I’m ill and need to try and get better.

The thing is that, as much as I love this song, it only offers me despair. It only reflects depression back upon the people listening to the song who are living with it. I need to hear something which talks about the black thoughts in their head, but demonstrates that there is also hope. Thank God for the Psalms,

“As a deer pants for flowing streams,
so pants my soul for you, O God.
My soul thirsts for God,
for the living God.
When shall I come and appear before God?
My tears have been my food
day and night,
while they say to me all the day long,
“Where is your God?”
These things I remember,
as I pour out my soul:
how I would go with the throng
and lead them in procession to the house of God
with glad shouts and songs of praise,
a multitude keeping festival.
Why are you cast down, O my soul,
and why are you in turmoil within me?
Hope in God; for I shall again praise him,
my salvation and my God.
My soul is cast down within me;
therefore I remember you
from the land of Jordan and of Hermon,
from Mount Mizar.
Deep calls to deep
at the roar of your waterfalls;
all your breakers and your waves
have gone over me.
By day the Lord commands his steadfast love,
and at night his song is with me,
a prayer to the God of my life.
I say to God, my rock:
“Why have you forgotten me?
Why do I go mourning
because of the oppression of the enemy?”
As with a deadly wound in my bones,
my adversaries taunt me,
while they say to me all the day long,
“Where is your God?”
Why are you cast down, O my soul,
and why are you in turmoil within me?
Hope in God; for I shall again praise him,
my salvation and my God.” (Psalm 42:1-11 ESV)

The Psalmist writes of a depression way beyond anything I have ever experienced, I’m glad to say. Tears are his food and drink, his soul is “cast down” and in turmoil. He fears that God has forgotten him, whilst his enemies ask where his God has gone. He is at a desperately low ebb, constantly reflecting on the same dark thoughts and feelings as if he is in a cycle which he just can’t break free from.

Sounds familiar.

However, unlike Newton Faulkner, the Psalmist offers hope. Rather, that is, God offers hope. As he falls deeper into the pit of depression he keeps coming back to the one thing which he can cling onto with any certainty. The one, constant, unchanging hope in his life.

” Hope in God; for I shall again praise him,
my salvation and my God.”

He will continue to praise God in order that he will, once again, praise God. It seems like an oxymoron, but what he’s doing is praising God with his head because he knows that God will lift him out of the pit and put his feet on solid ground (as he says in Psalm 40). Then he will be able to praise God with his head, heart and soul as he will have been set free.

I have no doubt that, by writing his feelings down, as I am with this blog, he will have been helped a great deal. Getting your feelings out of the muddle in your head and expressing them to others is amazing therapy for some, including myself. On its own, though, it’s not quite enough. Help and support from loved ones, therapy from trained people and medication all help too. The best remedy, however, is the best hope we have. The one, true hope of life. The one who the Psalmist put his hope in.

And so will I.