141019 – Singing Light

(A musical sermon reflecting on Psalm 131)

Last year in a prayer book I came across this stanza of a poem by Thomas Merton:

Sink from your shallows, soul, into eternity,Arise-and-shine
And slake your wonder at that deep-lake spring.
We touch the rays we cannot see,
We feel the light that seems to sing.     (Merton – A Man in the Divided Sea)

Those last words just thrilled me: “We touch the rays we cannot see, we feel the light that seems to sing.” That’s faith. That’s spirituality. That’s God’s presence – touching rays we cannot see – feeling light that seems to sing.

I started to think about how grateful I was for my faith, that for me, most of the time anyway, God’s light really does seem to sing. So I wrote a song about it. I started with trying to describe the hunger and thirst people have for God, and how those of us who are blessed in the sense that we have opened ourselves to God’s presence and enjoy the glorious wonders and gifts that presence pours on us, that we need to be the ones to share our perception of that singing light.

The chorus is my profession of faith. It sings to me…

It Sings to Me

SO MANY TIMES, SO MANY DAYS
SO MANY WHY’S, SO MANY ‘WHAT TO SAY’S’
SO MANY TRIES, SO MANY FAILS
SO MANY CRIES, SO MANY OFF THE RAILS

SO MANY REASONS TO WONDER IF THERE’S REALLY SOMETHING MORE
SO MANY SEASONS THE SUN DIDN’T SEEM TO SHINE LIKE BEFORE

SOMEBODY SAID SOMEBODY KNEW
SOMETHING ABOUT SOMEBODY IN THE GROOVE
SOMEBODY SHOW, SOMEBODY PRAY
SOMETHING TO HELP SOMEBODY FIND THE RAY

SOMEBODY SING OUT A SONG LOUD AND STRONG OF THE LIGHT THEY FEEL
SOMEBODY SING OUT A SONG OF THE LOVE THAT HAS BEEN REVEALED…

I CAN FEEL YOUR LIGHT, IT SINGS TO ME
I CAN BREATHE DELIGHT, IT SETS ME FREE
(IT’S) OPENED UP MY EYES, A SACRED WORLD I SEE
I CAN FEEL YOUR LIGHT, IT SINGS TO ME
IT SINGS TO ME, IT SINGS TO ME, IT SINGS TO ME

(THERE’S) SINGING FLOWERS AND SINGING TREES
A SINGING WORLD IS SINGING SONGS TO ME
A SINGING BIRD, A SINGING SMILE
A SINGING HEART WAS SINGING ALL THE WHILE

A SINGING SPIRIT FOR EARS THAT CAN HEAR AND FOR EYES THAT SEE
A SINGING SPIRIT THAT CALLS ME TO JOIN IN SOME HARMONY

I CAN FEEL YOUR LIGHT, IT SINGS TO ME
I CAN BREATHE DELIGHT, IT SETS ME FREE
(IT’S) OPENED UP MY EYES, A SACRED WORLD I SEE
I CAN FEEL YOUR LIGHT, IT SINGS TO ME
IT SINGS TO ME, IT SINGS TO ME, IT SINGS TO ME

A few weeks ago I was at a training session at a United Church retreat centre called Five Oaks, near Brantford. One of the things I love about studying spirituality is that there are always new things to discover. I learned a new spiritual practice – walking the psalms. I’d prayed psalms in many different ways before but I’d never walked them. The idea is you take a psalm and go for a walk while reading it and thinking about it. It was a remarkable experience.

We were given Psalm 131 to walk with, primarily because it’s very short. Here’s the psalm:

O Lord, my heart is not lifted up, my eyes are not raised too high;
I do not occupy myself with things too great and too marvelous for me.
But I have calmed and quieted my soul, like a weaned child with its mother; my soul is like the weaned child that is with me.
O Israel, hope in the Lord from this time on and forevermore.

What I found was I started fighting with the psalm – arguing with it.
“O Lord, my heart is not lifted up, my eyes are not raised too high.” – yes they are.
“I do not occupy myself with things too great and too marvelous for me.” – yes I do.

I was not liking what this psalm was showing me at all! I kept reading those verses, walking, and arguing.

And then I moved on to the next part and it really moved me: “But I have calmed and quieted my soul like a weaned child with its mother; my soul is like the weaned child that is with me. O Israel, hope in the Lord from this time on and forevermore.”

The image is of a child that’s old enough to be weaned from breast-feeding but is still intimately and lovingly embraced by the mother. I love that. That’s us with God – old enough to be on our own but still intimately and lovingly held in God’s embrace.

And it ends with a reassuring promise: O Israel, hope in the Lord from this time on and forevermore. God is with us forevermore!

So I was feeling pretty good about my relationship with God. Now, Five Oaks has a fabulous labyrinth and I love walking it and praying on it so when I finally got some alone time I rushed down to it. Wouldn’t you know it, someone else was walking it. The nerve! Sharing a labyrinth can be a lovely experience but I wanted it to myself. I took a deep breath and exhaled, and started in. I had a pad of paper with me because songs often come to me on labyrinths, and I had that Psalm 131 still rattling around in me.

Finally the other person left and I had the labyrinth to myself. Yes! Let the music come. Nothing. Nothing.
And then I just started to get an idea and I felt some rain. Not too much, so I kept going.
Then it came a little harder and my guitar case was on a nearby bench so I gave in and went and saved it, and ducked under a massive oak tree.

Now, I have to tell you that I really don’t like interrupting a labyrinth walk. The movements are so special to me that I don’t want to mess with its rhythm and flow – so walking out part way through bugged me. I was really mad. How dare it rain on me! I was praying! I was doing spiritual stuff. How dare I get interrupted from my perfect little plan by some unwelcome rain!

So there I am, standing under a giant tree, watching the rain fall, angry because my prayer time got interrupted, and wouldn’t you know it, the song started to come. “I was out walking in your way, rains come down, rains come down.” That was the first line (where do I come up with these things?!). I just kept writing about the rain interrupting me and hiding under the tree, and then a verse from that psalm I’d been arguing with flowed onto the page, and then it hit me.
My afternoon inconvenience could be a metaphor for the whole spiritual life. This song wasn’t about me and my rain, it’s about all of us on our spiritual life journey and the reality that from time to time we’re gonna get wet.

Rains are gonna come down, no matter who you are or what good or bad you may have done, rains are gonna come down. It’s not a punishment or a judgment – it’s just rain. Life rains – sometimes it pours. Find a tree, take shelter, and remember that you are not alone. Rain is temporary.

And sure enough, after a little while, the clouds lightened up, the rain stopped, and the light shone through. God’s light shines through.

By then I’d written most of the song, and I ventured back out to the labyrinth. I started to walk it and kept writing and editing – I had a tune by then so I was trying things out – and it was coming along really good. I pulled out my phone and sang it into the recording app as I walked. Then I listened to it as I kept walking – the first listen is always a bit scary because until then you’re really not sure what you’ve got.

And I swear this is true – at the moment the last note of the song finished I was taking the last step to leave the labyrinth.
I started off angry because that rain dared to interrupt me, and it ended up being a wonderful gift to me.

Rains Come Down

I was out walking in your way, rains come down, rains come down
I was out walking in your way, rains come down
Tryin’ to spend all my time with you
Didn’t ‘spect rain to drench my mood
But rains come down, rains come down, rains come down

So under the tree of life I hide, shelter me, shelter me
Under the tree of life I hide, shelter me
Covered by million tiny leaves
Little old rain don’t bother me
Shelter me, shelter me, shelter me

Rains come down, rains come down
And even on my own I am ever yours
Rains come down, rains come down
And Lord I know you shelter me forevermore

Maybe my heart’s too filled with pride, still my soul, still my soul
Maybe my heart’s too filled with pride, still my soul
Maybe my eye’s too fixed on me
Maybe that rain can wash me clean
Still my soul, still my soul, still my soul 

Rains come down, rains come down
And even on my own I am ever yours
Rains come down, rains come down
And Lord I know you still my soul forevermore

Slowly the grey begins to fade, light shines through, light shines through
Slowly the grey begins to fade, light shines through
Though it was hidden from my eyes
I know it was shining all the time
Light shines through, light shines through, light shines through

Rains come down, rains come down
And even on my own I am ever yours
Rains come down, rains come down
And Lord I know your light shines through forevermore

I don’t know what’s going on in your life today, maybe it’s singing light, maybe it’s some rain. If it’s raining on you I guarantee you this: you are not alone. Rains come down, but they don’t last forever, even though sometimes it feels that way.
Trust in God, love God, know that God is with you in the rain – loving you and shining for you.
God’s light is shining whether you can see or hear it today or not. It shines and shines and shines because it can do no other, and it will sing for you, forevermore.

Amen.