Sunday, April 20, 2008

Simple songs

We had a great chapel service at the jail today. Our normal modus operandi is to sing worship songs for about 30 minutes and then have an interactive Bible study for an hour or so. We've been going through the Gospel of Matthew together.

Last night Carla and I spent the evening with some very good friends who we used to have a house-church with. We hope to someday start another church together; when the time is right. These friends have also been visiting the same Quaker church as Carla and I, and so we've been discussing our impressions. Over dinner, we talked about the kind of church gatherings we would like to someday start. Our consensus seemed to be that we would have a time of interactive Bible study; very much like what we're doing at the jail and what the Quaker church we've been visiting calls "Meeting for Learning". A separate "Meeting for Worship" would begin with worship music, followed by silent waiting in the manner of Quakers; with the expectation that the Holy Spirit would move and bring forth ministry.

Isaac Penington (1617-1679) described how early Quakers met in just such a manner (sans the worship music):

"And this is the manner of their worship. They are to wait upon the Lord, to meet in the silence of the flesh, and to watch for the stirrings of his life, and the breaking forth of his power amongst them. And in the breakings forth of that power they may pray, speak, exhort, rebuke, sing or mourn, and so on, according as the spirit teaches, requires and gives utterance. But if the spirit do not require to speak, and give to utter, then everyone is to sit stiff in his place (in his heavenly place I mean) feeling his own measure, feeding thereupon, receiving therefrom (into his spirit) what the Lord giveth. Now in this is edifying, pure edifying, precious edifying; his soul who thus waits is hereby particularly edified by the spirit of the Lord at every meeting. And then also there is the life of the whole felt in every vessel that is turned to its measure, insomuch as the warmth of life in each vessel doth not only warm the particular, but they are like a heap of fresh and living coals, warming one another, insomuch as a great strength, freshness, and vigor of life flows into all. And if any be burdened, tempted buffeted by Satan, bowed down, overborne, languishing, afflicted, distressed and so on, the estate of such is felt in spirit, and secret cries, or open (as the Lord pleaseth), ascend up to the Lord for them, and they many times find ease and relief, in a few words spoken, or without words, if it be the season of the help and relief with the Lord.... We wait on the Lord, either to feel him in words, or in silence of spirit without words, as he pleaseth..."

The reason we would want to add worship music to the beginning of such a meeting is that it is a marvelous tool to help the gathered people focus their attention on Christ. We discussed at length that any worship music we used must be very simple and unobtrusive; much like the early Vineyard songs. It must also always be kept in perspective that the music is merely an aid and not an essential. I'm praying now that the Lord will enable me to write and/or find very simple and deep worship songs.

I had this in mind when putting together the songs for today's chapel service at the jail. I decided to pull out and dust off some of the really old Vineyard songs (such as Allelu and Jesus, Name Above All Names). The impact of these songs on the inmates today was noticeable. They were able to quickly join in singing and enter into worship. They were deeply touched. The presence of the Lord was palpable.

Our Bible study was on the Beatitudes. We read and discussed them. Two of the inmates sobbed throughout the entire study time. Others, myself included, were teary-eyed. These simple songs had played a part in softening us and opening us up to the Holy Spirit.

These inmates aren't ready for a Quaker-style "unprogrammed" meeting, but I seem to have found a way, by emphasizing simple and heartfelt songs, to help them encounter the Living God. This is not a new discovery, but somehow we lost sight of it. I'm also excited at the possibility of incorporating simple worship songs into a Quaker meeting. I have a sense that the mixture of pouring our hearts out to God collectively in song, followed by waiting upon Him with listening hearts, could result in a profound experience with God of the type that the early Quakers wrote about.


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