Friday, February 10, 2012

Singing a neglected song

In any liturgical celebration, the congregation’s song is central to the effective proclamation of the gospel. For this reason, scriptural topics about which there are few congregational songs are nearly impossible to treat well in worship. This becomes obvious every time Jesus’ ministry of casting out demons is depicted in the Gospel lesson for the week, and also when scripture seeks to turn our mind to issues of God’s creation.

In the current issue of Liturgy, Tom Witt offers a survey of congregational songs from the global church to assist worship planners in their work of helping the people of God to celebrate and restore the goodness of the created world.

What seems to be a harmless omission of hymn texts honoring the earth is much more damaging than that. At least part of the function of music in our churches has been to actively sing ourselves off the earth, purposely seeking to escape this home for another. At best, this world-denying repertoire has been a diversion. At worst, it has been a drug numbing us to the importance of God’s work and our work alongside God and the rest of creation.

Is such an era now in the past? Each of the hymns mentioned above, and others like them, were not only adopted into the next Lutheran hymnal (Lutheran Book of Worship, 1978), they have been included into the most recent collection of Lutheran hymnody (Evangelical Lutheran Worship, 2006). Their presence in these recent collections indicates that either they are simply too beloved to be set aside (regardless of their theology) or that we have a long way to go before our congregations learn through music that our faith can be earth-affirming rather than earth-escaping.

Tom Witt (2012): Singing with the Earth and the Global Church, Liturgy, 27:2, 17-30

Tom Witt is a musician and worship leader based in Minneapolis, Minnesota. He is cofounder of the ensemble Bread for the Journey and leads liturgy workshops with a team from Living Liturgy.

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