“you will. . .surround me with songs of deliverance.”
To my mother’s chagrin, I was never as talented as she was when it came to music. She would have loved me—and her daughters—to be able to sit at the piano and create the joy she created right there all through her life.
But for me, no go. She made sure I took lessons for years, but today I can’t plink out much more than “chopsticks.”
Several years ago I wrote a play in commemoration of the fiftieth anniversary of the college where I teach. Somewhere in early summer of the year before, when I was belly-deep in the writing, I was struck with the notion that this play I was working on should end with a choral anthem titled “O Lord God,” a Russian piece my sister used to sing adoringly, years after she’d left the college choir.
This one, here sung by the Dordt College choir, in fact.
I loved that anthem, not only because I knew it stayed so tenaciously with my sister, but also because I knew it had also been a favorite of college choirs throughout those fifty years.
But I also loved it because the piece tells a musical story. It begins in deep anxiety and begs the Lord to listen to her prayers, offered with daily diligence. And then, suddenly and remarkably, as if out of nowhere, the music’s trajectory simply soars in thanksgiving: “I will sing to the Lord as long as I live.” A real musician would know how to describe what happens technically, but it doesn’t take a professional to experience that, gloriously, the prayers of the petitioner have been answered.
Because I wanted that music to end the play, I listened to it time and time again when I was writing, so often that today even a novice like me could direct it, I swear.
At the college’s fiftieth anniversary celebrations, the play was staged a half-dozen times. I didn’t attend every performance, but I every time I was there I was moved as deeply as I ever had been at the deliverance story of “O Lord God.”
Many hymns are songs of deliverance, the Christian life beginning, or so it seems to me, in thanksgiving. What happens in Psalm 32 is what happens in the lives of all believers: once we come to know the miracle of grace, once our quaking bones have been delivered from the load of our sins and miseries, once we apprehend the love of God for his creations, we can’t help but sing, even the monotones among us. Grace makes our “chopsticks” sound like John Sebastian Bach. Really, all our greatest hits are songs of deliverance.
I sat there in the blessedly darkened theater and cried three times, every time the play ended, cried at the incomprehensible clarity of music, something that can’t be explained really, but certainly can be experienced. I’d try to tell you what exactly it is that the music adores, but I can’t. There are no words. The only way to hear it —and understand it—is music.
That’s why verse seven of Psalm 32 is such a wonderful line. David makes a perfectly understandable claim here. The story of his life isn’t over, but the victory has been won. He’s sinned, he’s confessed, and he’s been forgiven.
“You are my hiding place,” he says, my comfort and my joy; you are my habitation; you are where I live. And you surround me—as if this whole world were the superb salesroom of some eternal electronics store—you surround me with songs of deliverance. Not stories—songs.
Wonderful. Let the music begin.