"A Celebration of Divine Grace and Peace"
Music in Worship Service
ACDA National Convention
March 8-10, 2007
Rev. Alicia W. Walker
Associate Pastor for Music and Worship
Peachtree Baptist Church, Atlanta, GA
R&S Chair for Music in Worship, Southern Division ACDA
Permission granted by the author for re-print on choralnet.org
Finding Grace and Peace in Creation
The king stood at the window, gazing at a kingdom forming almost before his very eyes. He ruled not by his own design, or by right of birth, but because he literally stood out in a crowd, and to his dismay, the tasks set before him were often too much for him to bear. He had accepted the mantle of responsibility not understanding fully what it would mean, but comprehending on some level that a Calling had been placed upon his life. He just wasn't sure he'd be able to handle it. Behind him, desperately eager courtiers vied for his attention. They thought perhaps they had found a remedy for their king's troubled spirit. A young man, a musician, had been summoned. He was gifted in ways they could not understand, as if Divine destiny had somehow been placed upon him, as well. With the confidence of the very young, and very talented, he played his harp for the king, and in the beauty of the music and the words, the ruler found solace.
We know the story. We even relate to it. The picture of David, the harpist, the Psalmist, bringing grace and peace to King Saul is one that forms clearly in our minds. We are humbled to think of our role as musicians placing us in situations where we, like David, are the instruments of peace in the lives of our listeners. It is a fine calling that we answer - often when we, too, are very young, and dare we say, very talented. We don't readily admit that sometimes we fill another role in this story. We are occasionally the troubled leader - chosen because we stood out in a crowd, because we felt a call, but sometimes, to our dismay, we're not sure we'll be able to fulfill the task. The demands of excellence are great, the tasks of perfection overwhelming, and the need to survive may take precedence over both. Instead of pouring out grace in the lives of others, we find ourselves empty, and in need of being filled.
In her book, Dakota, author Kathleen Norris speaks of spiritual geography, a physical place which calls to a person, where one finds a deep connection with God through a place God created. You may have experienced that sensation of being in a place that opens your soul to the wonder of spiritual things: where the seas roar and foam, or where the trees and hills clap their hands for the sheer joy of being, called into existence by the Creator of all things bright and beautiful. I believe there are places made with human hands that affect us this way, as well; sacred spaces where God is worshiped, places of learning where the creative process is acknowledged as Imago Dei - in the image of God, places where music is made that draws us into the very presence of the Divine. As the American Choral Directors Association, we do not have a particular place where we gather to have this kind of spiritual connection with the Holy God. Rather, we travel from town to town and village to village, seeking great venues, nice hotels, good restaurants, and convenient bus routes (or at least 3 out of 4). If we are to have a connection with each other and with God, the Creator of all, we will find it in the music that fills our ears and minds and voices when we gather. For us, the music we experience here may open our souls to the wonder of God, inviting us to celebrate the creative process that begins with God and is made manifest before our eyes, inspiring us to go and do likewise. As we continue to worship together, find your place in the creative process of this hour. May the texts and sonorities you experience in this place open your soul to Divine grace and peace, that you may be filled to overflowing.
Finding Grace and Peace in Community
We come from hundreds of miles away, gathering with people who share our intense love of choral music. While we're together we listen to glorious singing, we are inspired by the greatest leaders in our profession; we eat well and laugh hard, share our joys and sorrows, and maybe even brag a little. ACDA is a great time. And then we go home. After four days of listening to the finest choirs in the country, we endure the relative agony of that first rehearsal. We try some of the new things we learned, and hear our choirs mutter, "She's been to ACDA again". How long will the inspiration last before it's buried under a crazy schedule, the demands of administrators and senior pastors, and the apathy of singers with other priorities?
Choral directors are some of the hardest workers I know. We take to heart Paul's words, "Make the most of the time, for the days are evil." What sustains us? The aesthetic experience is a fine motivation, but it may be all too infrequent in the midst of the daily grind. The Psalmist questioned, "I lift my eyes to the hills. From where will my help come?" The answer isn't found solely in the beauty of creation, after all. It's in the next verse: "My help comes from the Lord, the maker of heaven and earth." We seek Divine grace and peace to sustain our spirits through hectic days. The Old and New Testaments alike display an important aspect of grace that we sometimes overlook - that of sacrifice. The grace of atonement was not available without the blood sacrifice, a ritual we do not relate to in these modern times. As musicians, though, we understand the concept of sacrifice in other terms - hours spent in the practice rooms and in the library, the discipline of score study - these things communicate to us. We know how this translates into the graceful beauty of a fine performance. There is another source of grace through sacrifice that we see every day, in every rehearsal. It's our singers. Whatever their age or ability, they fill our lives with grace over and over again; the child who learns to match pitch, the middle schooler who finds a place to belong and to sing, the high school student who discovers the joy of artistic expression, the college student who matures into a fine teacher, scholar, and performer, the community and church choir members who come faithfully, week after week, year after year, to spend an evening singing with us. The sacrifice of these people, their willingness to place their musical endeavors in our hands, should fill us with grace as we interact with them, teach them, hold them accountable, and make music with them. They are a constant source of renewal that is available to us if we have eyes to see.
But what of peace? The people cried, "Peace, peace!" But there was no peace, says Jeremiah. Something so elusive is not merely spoken, or even sung, into being, but rather calls, I believe, for a journey; a process of faith that takes a great deal of time, and should not be taken alone. Grief counselors tell us that acceptance of loss cannot come without certain steps being undertaken: denial, anger, and rejection are necessary parts of that journey. To journey toward the hope of peace, I believe, is also to express one's lament at its absence. The voicing of our sorrow allows our hope of a peace-filled reality to have greater substance. With the Psalmist we must cry out, "How long, O Lord?" before our souls can truly be still. As musicians we are equipped with avenues to express the depths of our hopes and fears. We have available to us the music of generations of people who lamented and celebrated, who cried out in despair and rejoiced in triumph, and we have access to people now who can give voice to all of these. "Dona nobis pacem" may be sung in canon by young children, or in the grandeur of Bach's B minor Mass, and it is powerful and poignant in both because it is the prayer of us all.
Grace and peace are available to us in community. Thanks be to God.
Finding Grace and Peace in Calling
Do you remember when you first wanted to become a choral director? Can you name the person who inspired that desire in you? The choral director who saw potential in you and made sure you had the opportunities and encouragement you needed to take the next step? I daresay we all do. It's a bit cyclical, isn't it? How many of us have acknowledged what music meant to our lives - often because of a particular conductor - and wanted to pass that on to others? From generation to generation, there are people whom we rise up and call blessed, because of their legacy to us.
Yet, there are those times when we identify all too readily with King Saul. We find our days filled with tasks they didn't teach us about in school, and instead of making glorious music with incredibly talented singers, we answer endless emails, balance budgets, and try to figure out how the latest education technology will help our choir sing in tune. Is this that to which we were called? Yes!
When God said, "Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?," Isaiah did not reply, "I'll go if the conditions are right, with a balanced choir, all of whom play the piano, take private voice, and never miss rehearsal. Oh, and few minions to do the paperwork would be nice, too." Isaiah said with the humility of the newly forgiven, "Here am I, send me." So it is with the answering of a call from the Divine. We stand in awe of the One who has extended the call, who has seen fit to equip us to fulfill it. With humility we respond, "Here am I, send me." We go forth into the rehearsal rooms, concert halls, and sanctuaries of this world to share music. It is that simple, and that profound. For in that calling is a vehicle for Divine grace and peace in our lives, both professional and personal. As we teach and perform the choral music that we love, lives are enriched and changed in that process. The grace with which we fulfill our calling takes root and grows in our singers, flowing back to us in the form not only of beautiful music, but in healthy, positive relationships. What greater earthly source of peace might we find than that of strong relationships between human beings?
And if the days are filled with the mundane, we may, like Saul, turn to musicians who inspire us for solace and renewal; or, like Isaiah, we may return to moments of holy vision and calling to offer praise and receive forgiveness. The avenue is ours, if we will but find the grace to embark upon it. The calling is ours, if we will but answer it. And if you happen to acquire a minion or two along the way, be kind. They're watching, and learning, and will pass on your legacy.
Hear the words of Thomas Troeger, from his hymn, "The hidden stream that feeds"
We leave this watered place to work on rocky ground,
Yet even there the streams of grace sustain our daily round.
Lord, through our lives may others hear your living waters drawing near.