Building Spiritual Resilience through Song

Singing together builds community; singing together in worship also gives us an opportunity to experience what we’re singing about — wisdom, forgiveness, renewal, and love — and to experience it as true.  In the words of the apostle Paul, “Faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God” (Romans 10:17).  Music, aligned with the energy and direction of the words, amplifies and enhances this.  

Thomas H. Troeger’s “Swiftly Pass the Clouds of Glory,” set to swirling, unsettling music that moves toward conviction, moves us, with the gospel (Mark 9:2-13), from the glorious moment of recognizing Jesus on the mountaintop as the Son of God, to turning with him toward the valley and the cross, to a prayer that God might “transfigure our perceptions… till we seek no other glory than what lies past Calvary’s hill, and our living, and our dying, and our rising by Your will.” It’s not a propositional argument, but an entry into the energies and valences of the text. As it moves, so we move, in our imaginations, and — by God’s grace — in our lives. 

Thomas Merton’s prayer, “The Road Ahead” — “My Lord God, I have no idea where I am going. I do not see the road ahead of me…” — set to a simple, plainsong melody, but with accompaniment that shifts us from key to key, then returns us home, ventures out again, doubles the pace of change, and returns once more, all the while giving just what we need, just when we need it, to sing our part and arrive at our destination — gives an experience of what the prayer is talking about, “I cannot know for certain where it will end, nor do I really know myself… but I believe… you will lead me by the right road…” 

Each of these — and every song on this website — serves as a trust-building exercise.  They’re simple enough to learn easily, often without any need for teaching beforehand, but the accompaniment or rhythm of the line, plus a matching of the energy of the music to the tone of the lyric and use of mnemonic musical and lyrical devices, gives the assembly an experience of doing more than we could on our own, plus sometimes more than we knew we were capable of, musically and spiritually. 

With a prayerful musician at the helm, these songs become trust-building exercises. They press us into the unknown, only to find that the Spirit who leads us out is also present where we are going.  New songs, woven with the old, introduced at a loving pace of change, build the emotional and spiritual resilience of our assemblies, a helpful thing for any church seeking to follow Jesus in loving and serving in today’s world. 

Finally, each of these songs arose from a moment when I couldn’t find another song to serve the purpose. “To You All Hearts Are Open” sets the Collect for Purity (Book of Common Prayer, p. 355) and gathers us into worship or into the gospel. “These Things Did Thomas Count as Real” turns the Sunday after Easter into an event, and we’ve seen our Easter 2 attendance rise sharply since we’ve begun using it and communicating how beneficial the gospel for that Sunday is. These songs fill gaps in the liturgical year and enhance moments that are often under-attended-to, where there is a prime opportunity for spiritual and emotional growth. I pray that these songs will be a blessing to you and to all you serve with your gifts of music. 

In Christ, with you, 

John Tirro

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