Friday, February 3, 2012

Music Notes for February 5

      Almost from the beginning, Mark’s gospel highlights the time Jesus spends in solitude in “lonely places,” being tested by Satan and confronting demons (Mark 1: 12-15, 35, 45).  Job is similarly tested (Job 1: 6-12), losing everything he had.  His soliloquy, our first reading, describes one trapped in the belly of Jonah’s whale. His complaints sound very much like what we today call burnout. St. Paul finds himself similarly trapped, making himself “a slave to all.” 
      Psalm 147 provides the counterpoint to all this compulsion. A symphony in three movements, it is one of the last half-dozen psalms with “Hallelujah!” (“Praise the Lord!”) as their refrain. We sang the third movement on the feast of Corpus Christi last June.  Today’s passage is drawn from the first movement and emphasizes God’s justice: “God heals the broken-hearted and binds up their wounds. . . . The Lord sustains the lowly; the wicked he casts to the ground.” Jesus is of course God-with-us, confronting evil and healing by touch.
      As last week, “How Can I Keep From Singing” is the prayer of one whose faith is put to the test. The final verse sums it up: “The peace of Christ makes fresh my heart, a fountain ever springing.” There is similar refreshment in “There Is A Balm in Gilead,” from the tradition of spirituals. The allusion is to Jeremiah 8:22, but we propose that the balm is not in biblical Gilead but in the melody of the refrain, which to us suggests the “precious ointment” which runs down the beard of Aaron in Psalm 133 and brings communal healing. The mission of the church as a healing and reconciling community is the theme of “A Touching Place,” with a text by John Bell set to a Scottish folk song with a haunting melody. The determination of Paul and Job are well-expressed by “I Say Yes, Lord,” a bilingual song from Donna Peña of Chicago. Our determination and perseverance are taken up in “I Will Follow” by Chris Tomlin and “Been So Busy,” by Grayson Warren Brown. The latter is based on the spiritual “Ain’t Got Time to Die” in a classic arrangement by Hall Johnson, which the choir will perform at 11:30. Note that the expression is simply a metaphor for being completely consumed by the Lord’s work, as St. Paul describes. It does not refer literally to death.