“The Language of Joy”
Music Sunday Reflection
by the Reverend Doctor Peter W. Allen
Hingham Congregational Church, United Church of Christ
June 9, 2019
Anyone who has raised a child or who has worked with or volunteered with young children knows that kids begin speaking by babbling. Before they can say actual words they mimic the rhythms and tones of language. And it’s really cute.
My older son, Hank, went through a transitional period where he would combined simple words he already knew well to create words that sounded like words he was trying to learn. For example, when attempting to say the word helicopter, he said Hank-a-doctor. Hey, Dad! There’s a Hank-a-doctor! It was very cute.
Our wonderful Music Director, David Giessow, said to me that other day that music is a sort of language. And I completely agree. When we are young, we hum and babble tunes well before we can sing actual songs. In this way, we learn scales and melodies and rhythms — and perhaps later, harmonies as well — by trying them out, just like we learn a language.
I was lucky to be raised in a musical family and community. My parents sang to me at bed time and I had opportunities to sing in groups at church and at school. My parents and teachers encouraged me to learn instruments.
Being raised with the language of music was like being raised with the English language. I absorbed it and it became a part of me. When I sing, especially church hymns that I’ve known my whole life, I don’t think about what I am doing. It simply comes out of me. I know that many of you can relate to that, and that some of you can’t.
The folks who are offering music for
us today — whether it’s a six year-old girl or a seventy year-old man or a
professional musician or a group of volunteers — they are speaking to us in the
language of music in order to help us to connect with the Divine. They are, in
effect, bilingual, and they are acting as interpreters of the sacred,
for us and with us. And I am so grateful!
Our reading this morning is the traditional one for the day of Pentecost. The action takes place some time after Jesus’ resurrection and ascension. His followers are gathered in Jerusalem. And something miraculous happens. Yes, there are those flames, and that wind, which are both pretty dramatic. But to me, what reveals the presence of the Holy Spirit most powerfully is that everyone understands each other, no matter what language each one is speaking.
Old and young, women and men, they could speak to and hear one another. This is the kind of story we need today because we need a miracle like that right now. In our society, we are having trouble connecting, socially, politically, and in many other ways.
I think the reason they could understand each other on the day of Pentecost is because they were speaking the language of faith. We all need faith. In order to keep growing, to keep on looking forward, we need to believe in something and to serve something wonderful, something greater than ourselves. We need to show up with open eyes and ears, willing to share what we believe in and are hoping for.
And it all starts with babbling. Just like when we were toddlers, just beginning to learn English… or Dutch… or Spanish… or whatever our first language was. We try out certain ideas and feelings with one another and it’s completely fine if what we have to say or if our questions seem unsophisticated. We’re getting started.
To me, the language of faith and of music should include some sadness. If they don’t, we know they aren’t real. Some music has to be in a minor key and sometimes, in church, we are going to talk about pain and loss.
And yet, I also believe that the language of music and the language of faith are ultimately joyful languages.
Music adds great meaning to our lives and gives us a way to connect with our inner selves, with others, and with God. And that gives us joy.
And faith allows us to look forward to the future… and inward to God-with-us… and outward to our neighbors. And all of that means connection — which to me is the most joyful experience of all. We are not meant to be in this life alone. We are mean to share life in concert with others.
Thanks be to God, who is still speaking, and who speaks to us in the language of joy.