August 9, 2020

Sacred Song, II: Earth’s Song

Passage: Psalm 148

that every part of this cosmos we call home
is part of the great praise band,
the infinite chancel choir,
with a song of rejoicing sung
by the universe in its entirety.

God writes the Gospel,
not in the bible alone,
but on the trees, flowers, clouds and stars.

God’s song of love can be heard
in the dawn chorus
and the evening cacophony of cicada.

Whether in the silent solitude of the wilderness,
or in the unpredictable surge of a summer storm,
there is a power to the earth’s song
that gives us a glimpse of who God is,
“the deep down of things.”

But scripture and tradition push us one step further:
it’s not just that we as humans can find God
when we listen to the sound of the earth,
but that the song of the universe
is in fact sung in praise of God.

When we listen to the breeze in the trees
or the squawking of a squirrel,
we are listening to a song of praise to God
that arises from within every being,
animate and inanimate
across all creation,
from here to the great beyond.

Psalm 148 is one of many examples
of this idea across scripture:

that every part of this cosmos we call home
is part of the great praise band,
the infinite chancel choir,
with a song of rejoicing sung
by the universe in its entirety.

Psalm 148

Praise the Lord!
Praise the Lord, sun and moon.
Praise the Lord, you highest heavens, and waters above the heavens.
(“all that is out there” praise the Lord)
Let them praise the name of the lord.
Praise the Lord from the earth you sea monsters and all deeps.
Fire, hail, snow, frost and stormy wind.
Mountains and all hills.
Fruit trees and all cedars.
Wild animals and all cattle.
Creeping things and flying birds.
Kings of the earth and all people.
Old and young together.
Let them praise the name of the Lord.
Alone to be exalted.
Praise the Lord.

Let us pray. May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be a song of praise, a hymn of hope, as we seek you, our Rock and our Redeemer. Amen.

We are innately people of song. We sing praise to God because God first sang us into being: our lives are song, and within our bones is a divine song that cannot separate us from the deep and wide love at the heart of who God is.

Genesis 1 begins by imagining that God hovers over the raw chaotic beginnings, the unformed stuff of creation, and speaking order and life and breath and all matter into existence. It was a speech so beautiful it must have had melody and rhythm and cadence.

Surely we are created by song, a rich song of God, a holy crescendo that began
in the beginning and continues to unfold within and among us even now.

After being uttered into being by the song of God, all creation is now called upon in Psalm 148 to return praise to God in song—an innate song known to all matter (and dark matter, too, I’d imagine).

We love, because God first loved us, and so we sing because God first sang this song of beautiful creation into existence.

God sang the chaos into order, and so even those creatures of chaos like the sea monsters, and the forces of mayhem like fire, frost and stormy wind—each of them sing too, their own song of praise to God.

Even the stones cry out in praise. All creation—inherently—can praise God. It is a primal, universal instinct.

In that way, human song is not greater than or distinct from the song of praise
uttered within the rest of creation.

With the roar of the lion and the 200 decibel echolocating bellow of the whale,
we are united with all creation in song.

A walk around my neighborhood in the afternoon proved that the roofer up the road is louder than the goldfinch noiselessly collecting nesting materials; the children playing in the sprinkler with their nanny are louder than the baby bunnies playing under my neighbor’s porch; and the train clacking almost a mile away is louder than the squirrel traveling the highway of tree branches across my backyard.

Humans, at least in my neighborhood, are louder than the rest of creation.

But noticing the sounds of nature out my front door made me wonder: if the everyday sounds of birds, bunnies, and squirrels along with the ordinary wind and the commonplace frog song are all ways that creation praises God, then maybe, too, our ordinary lives have an element of praise.

Why not count the roofer’s hammer among the songs of praise?

Why not count the innate laughter of children as a song of gratitude to God?

Why not call the everyday train ride part of our human song of hope for connection with each other and with the divine? I think sometimes our definition of praise, and our definition of praise-song gets so narrow that anything not in our hymnal is stricken from the record.

But maybe the everyday sounds of humans trying to get by on this earth are part of the wider hymn of praise to God: praise for life, praise for breath, prairie for joy, praise of all God is.

I also love that Psalm 148 counts mountains and hills among those who sing praise to God.

One way to interpret this is with Julie Andrews singing “The hills are alive with the sound of music.” With wide open German Alps behind her, the mountain landscape set with flowers and blue skies is one way to listen for Psalm 148’s song of praise.

But, what of the more explosive sounds of mountains?

For example, there must have been a fortissimo marking in the music set before the volcano at Krakatoa. In 1883, the volcano erupted at Krakatoa with such force that it was heard two to three thousand miles away, and while no audible “boom” was heard in England or Toronto or St. Petersberg, scientists in those cities saw spikes in atmospheric pressure from it’s great soundwave that went around the globe in both directions three to four times.

To that end, one sound historian pointed out that just because you can’t hear a sound, that doesn’t mean it’s not there. He told the Minnesotan reporter interviewing him, “sitting here in landlocked Minneapolis, you’re probably immersed right now in sounds from the ocean you cannot hear” and he would tell us the same.

In other words, the song of creation echoes around us in ways we cannot even imagine. This idea that sound waves carry far beyond their point of origin got me thinking this week.

If scientists noticed evidence of Krakatoa’s explosion all the way in Toronto, and Minnesotans might be immersed in the sound of the ocean hundreds of miles away, then is it possible that this week, here in Illinois, we were doused in the explosive sound waves coming from Beirut?

Could we have heard that song of sorrow, even here? With several hundred tons of explosives, the destruction at the harbor Tuesday was likely around 210 decibels at the blast site and registered as strong as a magnitude 3.5 earthquake on the Richter scale.

The sound itself could have killed someone and had an explosion of that consequence materialized on Navy Pier, it would have been felt and heard here at Kenilworth Union Church, possibly shattering our stained-glass windows.

Hospitals in Beirut, already reeling from the pandemic, were brought to their knees. The director of intensive care at St. George Hospital within the blast radius sent out a message to local hospitals saying,

“There is no more St. George Hospital.
It is fallen.
It is destroyed.
All of it.
Pray to God.
Pray to God.”

Hearing that doctor’s words makes me wonder: were we unknowingly drenched in the echoes of that sad song coming from Beirut this week? Sometimes the earth carries a song of sorrow around the world too and straight to the ears of God. Our songs of praise and lament intermingle these days as we see unfolding tragedy interwoven within the beauty of the earth.

How do we join in this universe-wide song to God these days?

Do the new sounds of your life count as a song of praise?

The click on your keyboard as you work from home?

The shuffle of your feet as you walk with a friend?

The sound of your grill firing up for another meal from the backyard?

The call to your parents or children, hundreds of miles away?

These I think are part of our song of praise.

How might those ordinary sounds become integrated into your faith as part of your never-ceasing praise your wordless and constant prayer?

Listen for the sounds of the earth to accompany you in such praise. The wind, the rain, the birdsong. The roar of the waves, the silent still water, the trees rustling overhead. The everyday laughter, the tears, are all part of our lifelong song to the Lord our God.

May our whole lives be praise,
may our everyday be a song,
may we join in the unending song of the earth,
and may our song rise up always to ears of God.