Song is Prayer

Jesus says, "Every scribe who has been trained for the kingdom of heaven is like a householder who brings out of his treasure what is new and what is old." In this parable, Jesus is using the image of a well-to-do person preparing for a party, getting items for the party out of the storehouse, items new and old.

At this party tonight, the one of the treasures new and old which we are producing is song, song to express our love for God. Song is good for this, it is a sort of prayer of the body, a form of exercise and work, in as much as we use muscles and resonant cavities of the body and suchlike. It is the material act of an incarnate being, so it is proper to our humanity, integral to what God created us to be, and so most properly and justly addressed to God. It is a gift God has given us, which we return to God in the form of a sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving.

Song is also an expression of meaning, a mental act, and so to sing is to join body and mind, to become for the moment a more integrated being in addressing God, and so more like what God created us to be.

With song, as with any form of human meaning, there is a surplus of meaning. An expression of meaning is capable of more meaning than the speaker-or singer-intends, more than a hearer hears, more meaning than can ever be expressed. New meaning can always be found. That is why people hear things in what you say that you didn't think you were saying, and why different people hear different things in the same saying.

This surplus of meaning is especially important when God is the hearer of our song. Think of the song of birds. We are assured by scientists that the birds are communicating on an every day level to other birds with mundane concerns, "Here is food," "There is water," "Are you a potential mate?" or "This is my territory, so watch your step." But we hear exaltation, celebration, nostalgia, melancholy, whatever. All this is a result of the surplus of meaning.

So it is with God hearing our song. We may be slogging through a hymn or canticle in some early Sunday morning Eucharist, just getting through and not intentionally praying in any active way. But God hears the surplus of meaning which is there but which we are not at the moment intentionally using. That's why it is good to go on, why we continue to strain and struggle with tempo and harmony. We go on because God hears what we really want and intend, even though we are not doing it at the moment.

And what God hears from us, we sometimes also hear from ourselves, from that surplus of meaning available to us in what we sing. Then indeed we sing well, then our heart is joined to mind and body, and then we are joined to God.