Praying Against Oppression – Fighting the Good Fight

Don’t you just hate that thing about having to pray for your enemies as well as your friends? I mean really pray for them, not some half-baked walk around or praying that they be vanquished in whatever they are doing that is wrong in your sight.

This past week I had to sit down and make a decision I’ve been putting off for a while: what to do with all the hate mail that comes in. Maybe it’s because social and legal rights for LGBT people are in the news a lot now, and folks find us here, then start complaining that we are preaching against (their prejudiced view of) the Bible.

Old nasty cliches about “…it wasn’t Adam and Steve,” and lots of quoting misinterpreted verses from the Hebrew Bible. Throwing much anger, much name calling, much hate.

The question was: what to do with those responses.

My first thought was to approve them and let them stand as a point of conversation and debate. My second thought was that I have heard these old excuses and misquoted Bible verses against other people, and I am just weary of that battle. On some level, I don’t care what those people think because they do not care what I think. Neither side will convert to the other way of believing and become saved. (That salvation stuff is a whole other lesson.)

I am human just like them. And American just like them. And married – legally – just like many of them.

My decision was to delete those nasty, hateful comments without response, and not allow them to be posted here. Remember: my blog, I get to say what’s said. And I will not stand for these hateful, ignorant people who embarrass the name of Christianity with their gospel of hate and damnation.

They can go pee on somebody else’s bushes. Not in my yard.

The same to the people who don’t like my writing about Muslim and the Q’ran. Same with folks who don’t like any other spiritual practice I speak of because in their narrow and cold hearts it is somehow heathen.

It’s not my place – and not yours – to make a judgement on what people believe, or even if they believe, nor what they do for their spiritual practice, even if they do nothing at all. I love and appreciate all the readers here, and I thank you that I have learned about the practices and beliefs of my friends and their friends. I prefer speaking about a religious text from the perspective that I have read the book, and not just that I hate it, outright, for being written.

Send nasty comments and try to spread the  hateful bile you spew “in the name of Christ” if you must. It stops at the door and is not allowed in.

The next question for me as the prayer below states: what can I then do to help make the whole universe better, out beyond this safe space to love and be loved with great agape? I invite you, if you are so inspired, to ask yourself the same question in your meditations.

-Keep the faith!
Namaste!


 

A prayer in times of oppression

(Almighty God,) 
Grant us grace
to contend fearlessly against evil
and to make no peace with oppression;
and,
that we may reverently use our freedom.
Help us to employ it
in the maintenance of justice
in our communities, and among the nations.

 – Amen

Jesus loves me, by William Batchelder Bradbury (1860)

Jesus loves me—this I know,
For the Bible tells me so;
Little ones to Him belong—
They are weak, but He is strong.

Refrain
Yes, Jesus loves me!
Yes, Jesus loves me!
Yes, Jesus loves me!
The Bible tells me so.

Jesus loves me—He who died
Heaven’s gate to open wide;
He will wash away my sin,
Let His little child come in.

Refrain

Jesus loves me—loves me still,
Though I’m very weak and ill;
From His shining throne on high
Comes to watch me where I lie.

Refrain

Jesus loves me—He will stay
Close beside me all the way,
Then His little child will take
Up to Heaven for His dear sake.

 

.

 

Prone to wander… I feel it

I’ve written about this song twice, and I probably daren’t write about it again. In this post from 2008 I speak of waking up in a great organ-filled, bombastic mood of strength and happiness:

Prayer Closet Video – Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing

Today, I’m stuck in that line toward the end about…

“Prone to leave the God I love.”


The humanity in me always pauses on that phrase. I always hear it when singing the lyrics to a song I have sung hundreds of times and memorized so very long ago. Prone to leave God after all these years? How is that possible?

Medical treatments over the past decade have left my brain with adult onset ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder) which makes for a great challenge in paying attention and getting things done. You might have heard the term “his mind was wandering for a second,” and that’s more like daydreaming … to stop paying attention for a moment but then being able to jump back into the conversation.

ADHD isn’t like that at all: it’s like the mind is bolting out of the gate and not likely to return to the conversation at hand. It spoils work performance. It puts undue strain on social relationships. It plays complete havoc with being able to show up for appointments on time.

How does that effect the spiritual relationship with one’s Almighty? I think the answer is somewhere in the middle of those two, since I always seem to wander back to the spiritual life at hand.

First remember that we are all humans: we are guys. And as such we do human things. My friend Rev. Tammy speaks eloquently of how our relationship with The Almighty is like a river in that there are the slow, deep sections where one’s boat glides along easily. There’s the rapids where one is holding on to the boat with white knuckled fear of being dashed against the rocks.

And there are the times that the water seems to have run out, and we have to get out of the boat and carry it through the mud to where the water gets wide again.

That’s the way it is.

My mind may wander from one fantastic idea to the next, always wandering away at that idea phase. My concentration may want to become impatient and wiggly like a toddler who doesn’t want to sit still in church. I get like that with God now: wander away to something sparkly and entertaining, and then eventually toddle back and sit still.

This is the cycle of our relationship with spirituality, if the relationship is true. Ebb and flow. Zealot one moment and Peter denying Jesus three times the next moment. I have learned not to feel sad about the wandering off on some tangent and forgetting about God because I don’t notice that I’ve done it until I come wandering back. And then it’s like:

“Hey God.”
“Hey boy.”
“Sorry about wandering off like that.”
“I’m sorry, too, boy. I see you had a rough time. I’m glad you’re back.”
(pause)
“I love you, God.”
“Yeah, I know. And I love you too, boy.”

And from there, the story – and the travels – continue.

Keep the faith!
 – Amen

Come Thou Found of Every Blessing

Come, thou Fount of every blessing,
Tune my heart to sing thy grace;
Streams of mercy, never ceasing,
Call for songs of loudest praise;
Teach me some melodious sonnet,
Sung by flaming tongues above;
Praise the mount! I’m fixed upon it,
Mount of thy redeeming love.

Here I raise mine Ebenezer,
Hither by thy help I come;
And I hope by thy good pleasure,
Safely to arrive at home.
Jesus sought me when a stranger,
Wandering from the fold of God;
He, to rescue me from danger,
Interposed his precious blood.

O to grace, how great a debtor,
Daily I’m constrained to be!
Let they grace, Lord, like a fetter,
Bind my wandering heart to thee;
Prone to wander, Lord, I feel it,
Prone to leave the God I love;
Here’s my heart, Lord, take and seal it,
Seal it for thy courts above.

Singing the Psalms – Anglican Chant

 A few years ago (ok… five years ago) I wrote an article on how to pray with the Psalms that is located here:

The second consideration for the Psalms is to sing them by way of plainsong or chant. I’m not going to delve into Gregorian chant because the work is much more complex and for those who are just beginning a spiritual practice, keeping up with the melodies and the words becomes distracting. (And then there’s that whole singing in Latin thing.)
If you are not of a particular religious practice keep in mind that many non-religious people do chant and hymn singing not as much for the message in the words, but for the healing rhythm that runs through the body while participating, both in melody and the physical sensation of the lyrics as they are sung.. (I will later share later an interesting article I read on atheists who have a regular prayer practice.)
So there are two types of chanting that are very similar: those in the tradition of the Roman Catholic Church which is the easiest of all to learn and has the most use of Latin lyrics, and the Anglican chant which has slightly more texture of the voices and is a little more complex to sing. Since I grew up with Anglican chant and it’s in my blood and my soul, we will look at that.
In the earlier page above I used a clip from Psalm 23, the most recognizable of the songs, The LORD is my shepherd, I shall not want….
Singing works exactly the same with the breath points you see in the lines, except instead of stopping for a pause/breath, that is the point at which the melody phrase changes.
Anglican chanting in general is a 1-2 * 1-2 * etc pattern of two musical phrases.
This runs from the beginning of the psalm to the end. An exception here is if the song has an odd number of lines or verses. We end up the odd line with note #2
Confused yet? Excellent!! 
The musical example I have for you shows two musical phrases (plus the breath points,) and how they are split between the verses. Below that, I’ve marked up a copy of the Psalm showing where to sing each phrase.
This melody is chanted as:
  • first half of the phrase (breath)
  • second half of the phrase (pause)
  • first half of second phrase (breath)
  • second half of second phrase (pause)
  • (repeat to the end.)
  • (Optional) depending on your practice, the Glory to the father… is added to the end of all Psalms that are sung in this manner. If you do not use that in your practice, this may be omitted.
More after the song:

Psalm 23
(1a) The lord is my shepherd, *
(1b)   therefore I lack nothing
 
(2a) He shall feed me in a green pasture *
(2b) and lead me forth beside the waters of comfort. 
 
(1a) He shall convert my soul, *
(1b) And bring me forth in the paths of righteousness for His name’s sake.
 
(2a) Yea tho I walk through the valley of the shadow of death *
(2b) I will fear no evil,
 
(1a) For thou art with me *
(1b) they rod and they staff comfort me.
 
(2a) Thou shalt  prepare a table for me *
(2b) against them that trouble me
 
(1a) Thou has anointed my head with oil, *
(1b) and my cup shall be full
 
(2a) But thy loving kindness and mercy shall follow me
      all the days of my life, *
(2b) and I will dwell in the house of the Lord for ever.
 
 
(1a)Glory be the Father and to the Son *
(1b) and to the Holy Ghost.
 
(2a) As it was in the beginning is now and ever shall be, *
(2b) world without end, Amen.

 

If I’ve counted correctly you hear that there are only 5 notes per phrase, regardless of how long the lyric is. The stretch is on the first note, and you repeat that single note over as many words in the verse as necessary until you get to the final four notes. (These numbers will vary by the tune being used, so 5+5 is not a hard and fast rule.)

The great benefit here to that the very long repetition in the lines like “…And bring me forth in the path of righteousness….” is that of the great harmonics that build up in your lungs, radiating through your body as you hold on that one note, repeating it, and turning your attention to the words you are singing rather than having to follow a hymn melody. This brings singing and praying to its simplest form.
These tunes always appear in a tight harmony across a very small musical range so that it’s comfortable for any singer with no wild vocal stretches. Again, through the simplicity of the singing, our thoughts turn to the Psalm itself, and our communal singing is the Amen that wraps it all together.
 
With practice, these tunes become as well-known to your body as humming, and at that point they become invisible to your reading: they are there in your singing voice, and they do not interrupt your reading and understanding mind.There are a number of different tunes and variations used, and if you look for recordings of singing the Psalms, you will find great examples and can pick tunes that work best for you. The recording that I use in my office is The World of Psalms, a recording of 18 Psalms done in various Anglican chant tunes. It also makes wonderful background music for times you need to knuckle down and get serious.
 
What is the point of this simple two-phrase singing?
 
In congregational singing, this is one way to make sure that everybody stays in tempo with reading the psalm aloud together. It also takes your reading of these songs to a deeper and more advanced level. As the music becomes more like humming to you, the minor key used in the music draws your whole being to attention that something special is going on here. Right now, among us all. Holy, if you will. 
 
And as these tunes become so memorized by your whole body, your attention focuses on the words of the Psalm, rather than trying to keep up with a congregational hymn. And the breath points further break it down so that as you’re singing, your attention can stay on … and my cup shall be full, and what that is saying to you as a lyric. The melody only carries the words to your heart. 

 Think of this as an ancient form of multitasking.

 Notice that the melody is very slow. At this point in your meditations, it’s not the time to speed up, to keep on schedule, to hurry on to the next thing that you like to do better. It is a time of very close, focused attention – if this is a prayer, it is a time alone with you and God to sit together, for you to be receptive and calm, and to spend five minutes or so getting your spiritual ducks in order for the day, or put away today’s mistakes at the end of the day.

 

If you do not have a religious spiritual practice, consider the melody and the simple words. Again, this is a time of centering, of bringing peace to yourself and hopefully to those around you. In order to meditate well, you must first focus well.

 Give this a try if you haven’t already, and see how it effects your prayer and meditation time.

 Keep the faith!
– Amen

 
 
(Please feel free to leave a comment on any technical errors in the musicology of the above text and I’ll be glad to make corrections.)