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Posts Tagged ‘music’

I’ll be honest. Many contemporary worship songs just don’t do it for me with their repetitive, self-focused lyrics. Some songs even diminish words themselves by stressing “how words cannot express” one’s feelings for God. So then the words pretty much stay at the surface level, since they’ve been given the heave-ho, and my eyes glaze over into the expression of sleep.

As one who lives and worships with words, lines like that get under my skin. I can and wantto express myself with words! Is there something inherently unspiritual or unfeeling about vivid images or surprising diction? However, I have to face the fact that Paul speaks to the whole phenomenon of wordlessness in Romans 8:26: “For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words.” (Romans 8:26 ESV)

I am not a biblical scholar. I can’t say for certain whether this verse refers to emotions, speaking in tongues, or a mysterious silence we humans aren’t privy to. But I do know in those rare times of deep communion of God, I can sense a feeling, almost a wave sweeping over me, that does not attach itself to language. Perhaps I can capture the sense later in a poem, but in the moment, it’s just Spirit, just the wave.

I’ve been enjoying David Keplinger’s collection of poems, The Clearing The Clearing (New Issues, 2005). His poem “Without” speaks to this sense of wordlessness in a way that I’ve never been able to articulate. (How’s that sentence for some irony?) Enjoy this beautiful poem.

Without

“Where knowledge and desire ends,
There is darkness, and there God shines.”–Meister Eckhart

Upon his stroke, he did without. Still
He found that he could think, lacking words.
Seeing it, he could think a wooden table,

A glass, its dusty water, its blue,
Unsinkable stars. What spoke to him? He didn’t
Think the names. He had to listen. Like an ache

Far into the yard and to the neighbor’s yard
And to the neighbor’s neighbor’s even cows
As dark as hammers flickered in that self-

Same cloud. Twilight, they and all the lights
Would fade. No sense could hold the cows,
Their figures indistinguishable from the land,

In the same late angles as the land, when
He knew: This is God thinking. But he was
Thinking it without. Without This. God.

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For the past few months I’ve been teaching myself Celtic-style music on the mandolin and violin (I mean, um, fiddle). The music has awakened some kind of energy in me that I haven’t felt in awhile. Just yesterday I stole away in a church hallway before rehearsal and fiddled some jigs and hornpipes from memory. I felt so free and at home, as if entering a doorway into a room I’ve had my whole life but just recently discovered.

I know with time, however, my playing will get worse. Technically, it will improve with practice. But the more I learn about Celtic music, the more I will discern my own limitations and create higher standards for myself. This process needs to happen, of course, but will I still be able to love the music in the same way I do now?

Flash back 18 years. (Really??) It’s my first college poetry class, and I’m all enthusiasm. While I had always been a decent writer, I was refreshingly ignorant of poetry. (I had planned on becoming a playwright–not that I knew a whole lot about that, either!) This was before my eyes were opened to the world of rejection slips, book publication, and conferences where guys in elbow patches give talks about “Line Breaks and Post-Modern Gender Politics.” I just loved playing with words. I distinctly remember the first line of my first poem for that class. We were to write a blessing or a curse. My choice: a curse on fleas. The line: “Oh, black bug of borrowed blood.”

I repeated that line so much, and still remember it to this day, because it was simply a kick to say. Corny, yes, but what fun! I’m trying to get that original energy back into my writing. One way is by “collecting words” and playing around with them. (See the book Poemcrazy for ideas.) The other is procrastinating by writing a blog about poetry.

We are reminded in the Bible to have the faith of a child. Not a naive or ignorant faith, but a faith full of energy (think kids), wonder, and delight. I think the creative life and the spiritual life work in concord in this way. So this week I ask, Lord, please refresh my wonder in you. And rekindle my wonder in words.

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