So often I have talked about returning to the basics. That is always a good idea for sports. When a golfer goes through a tough stretch, it is important to go back to the basics. That usually means going back to the fundamentals of the game. When things are going well, there never seems to be any issue with fundamentals. But the game has its ups and downs. I am sure the same thing holds true for musicians and other professionals. It is not easy to sustain high performance over a long period of time.
And this is true for my spiritual life. Sometimes it seems really easy. I seem to be cruising along spiritually speaking. Life seems rich and meaningful. Things drop in your lap. Good things happen almost without effort. But then come other periods. Quakers call these times “dry periods.” There seems to be no sense of God’s Presence. I might feel spiritually cold or disconnected from things. There is no vibrancy or bounce to my life.
As with sports, the arts and other high level performances, spirituality is usually grounded in a life of discipline if it is to have long-term meaning. Part of the discipline of my spiritual journey is the daily use of the lectionary readings. The lectionary provides set readings for the various daily times monks spend in some kind of worship experience. I like to follow this because the monks take the spiritual journey seriously and I also want to do it, as I am able.
The lectionary readings that I use have a selection from the Psalms for every session. Since I did not grow up with the Psalms, I find this particularly helpful. For example, one of the Psalms for todays Morning Prayer is Psalms 146. I was intrigued by the opening verse of this Psalm. It reads: “Praise the Lord, my soul. I will praise the Lord all my life, make music to my God as long as I exist.”
A central theme of many Psalms is praise. I am intrigued by the idea of praise. When I think about it, the one place praise is very present in my life is with my own kids and the students I teach. It is easy for me to see them doing something good or noteworthy and praise them. I am also quite willing to praise the work and character of my good friends. And I wonder, can I actually extend this to God?
That is a great question. It is a spiritual question. In my mind I think about God as the Source of our created world. I don’t have to know all the details---whether it is evolution or how it evolved. But somehow God is a creative God in my mind. When I think of the wonder of the world, I am led to praise. It is an amazing world in which we live. I am so delighted to be part of it---for however long I might live. Every day is like another privilege extended to me and to all those who surround me.
I can say we’re lucky---maybe so. I can truly say that we are blessed. Life and life in this created world has been a gift. I did nothing to bring myself into being. I did nothing to deserve to live now and to live where I do. I can be thankful and can offer a world of praise. That seems like the least I can do. As the Psalmist says, I can praise my God all my life. That I intend to do.
The last part of that initial verse of Psalm 146 makes me smile. It says that I can “make music to my God as long as I exist.” My temptation is to run to a good commentary and see what the experts tell me how I should understand this passage. I understand other translators might not even translate the Hebrew this way. So that is why I just want to stay with the translation offered and do my own commentary.
I like the idea of “making music” to God as long as I exist. It’s a life-long process, not a weekend retreat. That is what the spiritual journey is---life-long. And the task is simple, according to the Psalmist: to make music. I don’t read this literally. I do not intend to pull out the drum or guitar and literally make music. I think the Psalmist wants us to apply this to our lives. Our lives are designed to make music.
But what does this mean? Music, as I understand it, has to do with harmony, beauty and meaning. That is what making music with our lives must mean. Somehow we are to live life with some sense of harmony. A harmonious life would be a life in tune with the Spirit and will of the Creator. It is a life of peace making and lovemaking. I am up for both of those!
Making music is also a life lived beautifully. I don’t think the Psalmist had in mind simply physical beauty, although that is nice. He meant a kind of spiritual beauty. I think of Mother Teresa here and many of the other famous saints and unsung spiritual heroes. How profound would it be if we were to become practiced to live a beautiful life? How moving would it be if someone were to say, “You are a thing of beauty!”
And finally, making music is learning to live a life of meaning. Surely God did not create us to live a pointless life! We were designed for meaning and purpose. Purposeful intent---that is the spiritual point of life. And it is all so simple: learning to make music with our lives.