I find Lenten music inspiring and enjoyable to sing. As singers, we are able to read the words and sing them to music, and almost all of the Lenten music with which I am familiar is lovely, both in words and in music.
Lent is a particular time of the Christian year in which we are able to think about what we might do better, and during the eight years in which I cared for my parents, I came to really appreciate the ability to sing, as an adjunct to the spoken Confession of Faith (I prefer, as usual, Rite I, because I love the language), and to get myself into a state of mind that was helpful to me as a caregiver. I'm not perfect - and perhaps much less so than some of my fellows, and I know it, and the period of Lent, painful though it might be, prepares me for Easter and the Resurrection of our Lord. It's a reminder that thoughtfulness and sacrifice come before joy.
When I sing, I'm not alone, and I'm not just in the company of my fellow singers, but in the company of all those who have sung this music before, and put the words so carefully to music. My voice swells to be singing with them.
"To decline from sin, and incline to mercy: That we may walk with a perfect heart."
Lenten Music... Upsetting?
I was working with a patient this week that will be transitioning soon. I began our time together by playing some Sinatra that, in my mind, would comfort her. Even though she is not able to speak, she let me know very soon that the music was not comforting her! I saw the body gestures and heard the growl and changed the music. She became calm, rested, and even hummed to IZ singing "Somewhere Over the Rainbow".
Today is Ash Wednesday and we begin our Lenten journey. The last few weeks have been preparations for this time including music. It won't be easy. Some of the texts just rub us the wrong way and irritate us to no end. "Wilt thou forgive the sin, where I begun, which is my sin, though it were done before?" UGH!!!!! And to wrap up the verse comes the comforting statement "... when thou hast done, thou hast not done, for I have more." Oh and let's not forget the numerous verses throughout our hymns about suffering and reminders to take up a cross and follow. It's uncomfortable!!! It makes us want to forget about Lent and jump to the alleluias of Easter Sunday. And yet, maybe that is precisely why we must sing these hymns. This is not a time to just "be" in the liturgy. It's a time to question, assess our walk with Christ, and maybe be a little uncomfortable.
As we draw close to Holy Week, let us be reminded of times in our lives when "my God, my God, why have you forsaken me?" was all we could mumble. It is this horrible reality in our lives that creates our Passion and allows us to experience Good Friday. It is this horrible reality that allows us to remember, to relive, to be, and to change.
Our Lenten hymns develop beyond the above frankness and bring the promise and comfort that life will be renewed. Our walk on this earth will be made light in the next. If you stop to check the text carefully and really reread the sentiments you will find this.
"Abide with us, that so, this life of suffering over past,
an Easter of unending joy we may attain at last!"
Accept the challenge of our walk ahead. Take up your cross - whatever that may be - and follow, listen, pray, and sing our Lenten hymns with courage!
Dr. Joseph Eppink
Director of Music