Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Song of Songs

All of us have songs that are favorites. Some of them make us happy, some we only play when we are in a melancholy mood. Others inspire us or fill us with courage. A secular song that I have always loved is Simon and Garfunkel’s “Bridge Over Troubled Waters”. It starts out quietly, just a guitar and Art’s voice sincerely promising his steady friendship. Gradually the song builds momentum. Textures are added, till the thundering, crashing orchestral accompaniment matches the deepening passion in Garfunkel’s full-throated vow of loyalty. Then he hits the final note of the song and holds it an unbelievably long time. It is absolutely awesome.

I often wish that just once in my entire life I could hit a note and hold it like that. Although I like to sing, music is not my forte. With an increasing hearing loss year by year, I dread the day when someone will kindly inform me that I am now so much not on key that it would be best to be silent. Maybe no one will say that to me, but if my voice jangles the nerves of those around me, and makes it difficult for them to stay on key themselves, it might be loving on my part to lock my voice box and throw away the key.

Once, years ago, I remember fooling around with my husband while singing a song. Totally by accident, one short, sweet, beautiful note escaped my lips, never to return again! Both my beloved and I were startled. Where did that come from? It lasted one second, the singing of that note, but the pleasure remains with me. I can say that once, and only once, I sang beautifully for one second.

Music is powerful. It lifts us up, or drags us through dreadful emotions. Whole segments of our memory are filled with musical associations. For a short period of time our family volunteered to lead hymn singing at a local Alzheimer’s nursing home. We were told that when all other memories are lost, it is often songs that linger in the minds of Alzheimer’s victims. They may not know a single beloved family member, but they can sing a hymn word for word that they have known their whole lives. Music, and the accompanying words can stay with us forever, continuing to influence us when all else has failed.

I have a song that I hope is in my heart to my dying breath. It is a favorite song, one that breaks my heart. I only play it once a year. It is part of our family’s Christmas morning tradition to play this song first, before anything else happens—except for me and my husband to get up and turn the tree lights on.

All the kids have to stay upstairs Christmas morning until they hear this song played very loudly on our CD player. That is their signal that we are ready. They wait at the top of the stairs, while their dad and I listen to the music at the bottom. Hopefully they are listening too, but I’m sure the excitement of the morning makes it difficult for some of them to take in the message.

So why do I only listen to it once a year? It’s like a favorite dessert. The more you have it, the less you appreciate it. You get tired of it. You stop paying attention to the flavors, and long for other things. Some things must come in small doses. More is not always better. More saps the power and the uniqueness, and dulls our appreciation of excellence. This song is like a powerful drug—in small doses it brings healing, hope and health. You can’t hear an inspiring speech every day and get fired up and zealous each time. And like a powerful drug, in large doses, it overcomes us, deadens us to the life it intended to bring. A powerful song is like that. Heard everyday, and we become deaf to the words. Hearing it once a year, and the lyrics stay in our heads year round. That is what this song is for me. The memory of it, the longing for heaven it arouses, sustains me until the next Christmas, when I hear it again and feel I could die for happiness.

For me, this song is Christmas. We could take away the tree, the stockings, the presents, the big turkey dinner, but if we still played this song, we would have celebrated Christmas. And on the other hand, we could have all that other stuff, but if we skipped this song, something of the celebration of the Incarnation would be lost. It is an integral part of the day, indispensable, and unbelievably beautiful.

So, what is it, you all want to know! It is “In the First Light”, which is on The Acapella Project album by Glad. The lyrics are an embodiment of the whole Incarnation story. From “But the heavens wrapped in wonder knew the meaning of his birth” to the moving finish, “But how much greater will our song be when he comes again to earth, when He comes to rule the earth”, the beautiful message of the Incarnation goes right to your heart.

Remember what I said about Art Garfunkel? Well, as Emeril Lagasse says, the singer in The Acapella Project kicked it up a notch on the last note of “In the First Light.” As a Catholic who believes in the doctrine of purgatory, I think most of us will go through a time of purification after death to prepare us for the glories of heaven. Only a few, martyrs and saints usually, go straight to heaven, based on the single-heartedness of their lives. It is my humble opinion that the singer who hits that last note in “In the First Light” merits the privilege of going straight to heaven, based on the beauty and purity and glory of his voice in that one note. It stabs my heart every time with painful pangs of longing, joy, and hope sweeping through me. Pangs that only heaven can fulfill, and for which I can only respond with tears of love and gratitude for my Savior.

It is at the moment of that last note that I feel most the painful separation of men and God, and the miracle of God himself bridging that gap. He came to our rescue. He has a balm for all our wounds, a glory to undo our degradation, a love for us that, if we knew it all, we would be annihilated with its intensity. At that last note, I feel my heart could burst with singing, and I know when I get to heaven the Glad singer, and Art Garfunkel, and I will all laugh for joy at the song that the Singer of all Songs sings for us.

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