Today we hear from Graham Peacock – chaplain, music lover, impresario, pantomime dame and somone I am proud to call friend.
We start with some more music.
Sometimes the songs we sing stop connecting with us.
I’ve preached and led worship for years. In the last few years choosing to pick something that I can sing with integrity has been a struggle.
In the early years of my Christian experience I used to like worship songs, then I moved through tolerating them to finally if I was at a large gathering finding ways of not singing them. When I hit crises I felt that the only solution that they offered was just to song louder.
It didn’t work for me.
Then I started going back to the older hymns: largely the ones that I had been bought up and first sang as a child without really understanding their meaning. The language is dated, but often quite beautiful. They do another thing for me now: they seem to hold joy and pain together better than any other form of song that I know.
In Advent, I like singing this hymn the most of all. Some days I struggle to contain the emotion when I do. I don’t know why; perhaps it is the tune which seems wistful and full of longing or maybe it is the childhood memories that it elicits. Sometimes I think that I prefer the uncertainty and ‘not yet’ of Advent hymns than the ‘It’s here!’ of Christmas carols.
As I’ve got older, the words have also begun to resonate: I get the feeling that I’m caught up in a bigger, centuries old story of people longing for deliverance and hope. These people never got to see it, but lived and behaved as if it could be; if not for them, for others yet to be born.
That faith moves me: sometimes I feel that I’ve lost it, yet when I sing that hymn, it returns. Maybe what is sung about won’t happen in the way of the images and beliefs that I used to have. Perhaps though it is the longing for deliverance and hope that gives us reason still to go on and still to keep singing.
Either way, I like the idea that the hymn isn’t impregnated by the first person singular and that I’m not exhorted to ‘rise up/take this land/press into the promise’ or any of the repetitive activist cliches that have long ceased to speak to me. In contrast the hymn seems more relaxed and comfortable with itself and with mystery.
This version is by Sufjan Stevens. I like how it starts almost playfully before sliding into devotion. The fragility of his voice and the quietness of this version makes it all the more powerful: you don’t always have to ramp the volume up to 11 to encounter the Divine.