I love to sing. It’s become my favourite form of musical expression after leaving my very battered, but ever so faithful, piano behind when I came to university five years ago. Just as there’s something so physical about playing piano, as though there is a direct connection between your feelings and fingers, when I sing, it’s a way for me to get my emotions out and into the open, a way to channel my frustration and make something come of it, however fleeting. It validates it somehow – I can hear the quavering in my voice, and the force behind the lyrics, and for someone who struggles with identifying emotions, it can help a lot. It tunes me in when I feel like all I’m surrounded by is white noice. (nb I am not GOOD at singing – I am just enthusiastic. When I founded my choir, we had to make it non-auditioning just so I could sing in it myself. People never seem to believe this until they have the misfortune of standing next to me and realising that when I say I can’t sing, it’s not self-deprecation, it’s actually a massive understatement. The surprise on their faces would break several mirrors. Perhaps this is why I’ve had bad luck recently…)
I am someone who literally sings to bursting with joy (when it comes for a rare visit), and, when I’m down and out, turns readily to literally singing the blues. I’ve found that my ability to sing at church is a direct expression of how I’m feeling towards God at the time – in the most painfully isolated weeks where I was so very convinced that God had once and for all abandoned me to my misery, I could not sing at all. I couldn’t open my mouth and force out songs of praise, faith and healing. Unlike David in Psalm 40, there was no song there to be had – I was spiritually struck dumb. There’s a wonderful verse in Job about a harp being tuned to the sound of mourning, and that’s just how I feel sometimes – no matter how hard I try, when I’m being pulled under by depression, I just can’t shake it, can’t find a new song to sing. I’m tuned to the key of grieving and hard as I try, just cannot modulate away from it. In those weeks, I couldn’t locate the heart that drives my songs, couldn’t find my soul in amongst so much emptiness and despair, and found that in standing silently amid the worshippers, my sense of detachment only exponentially increased. Music binds us together so often, but can also tear us apart when it so choses.
Just as when I cannot pray I turn to the Lords prayer in it’s simplicity, sometimes when I feel most wiped blank and most like an untamed wilderness inside, I turn to singing hymns, as the words are already there for me to say to God, and all I need to find is a personal yearning behind them to make them resonate with truth. This week I’ve had this song at the front of my mind a great deal, and in singing it so often, I’ve realised that I actually sort of disagree with it.
(this isn’t my favourite recording of this, but due to the limits of youtube and my patience, it will have to do)
Let the weak say, ‘I am strong, let the poor say, ‘I am rich’, let the blind say, ‘I can see’, it’s what the Lord has done in me…..- There’s no doubting that these are true, and beautiful words. We do find strength, spiritual wealth, and new insight when we find God. Certainly, when I became a Christian, it was almost like seeing the world with a new lens, in a different light, with sharper focus and a greater sense of unity. I was looking through a glass, darkly, no more. The air seemed crystal clear. However, in order to find Him, to greet Him as our own God, our Lord and saviour, first we much admit that without God in our lives, we are not as strong, or rich, all-seeing or all-knowing as we previously thought. We are weakened to the point of dying, impoverished of fulfilment, and blinded to what we so greatly need, unseeing of our place in the world. We are lost, ungrounded, and dying of independance. We open our eyes, and see that we are lost in unfamiliar territory. Being a Christian is all about finding fortitude, beauty and hope – but first, we must see a glimpse of the world for what it is when we continue to live a life wthout God and without the sacrfice of Jesus; hopeless. We have to lay down our pitiful attempts at strength at the foot of the cross; we have to resign all riches and belongings over to the Lord. We have to accept that our pitiful attempts at independence are nothing but mirages that vanish when we most need an oasis to quench our soul’s thirst. Let the strong say, ‘I am weak’.
I sometimes think that Adam and Eve’s mistake wasn’t in the eating of the apple, but in the fear and self-disgrace they expressed when they realised that unlike God, they were naked and vulnerable, when it occured to them that as created beings, they were terrifyingly mortal and could provide no match for the supremacy of the Lord. Perhaps, if after eating that apple of truth, they had sat under that fated tree and waited for God to come, then said, hands out and brave in their vulnerability, ‘God, we have tasted the fruit of the tree of knowledge and now realise that we are naked, afraid, and uncertain, we realise that we depend on you, more than ever, for clothing, shelter, and comfort – please, forgive us our trespass and show us once more how to be strong, now that we know so truly the pain of weakness, and understand that our riches account for nothing without your hand to guide our steps’ - perhaps, the Israelites would have been spared an awful lot of misery, and Jesus wouldn’t have had the impetus for such a dramatic rescue; perhaps if from the very beginning, mankind had recognised its pride and fragility, and let go of this idea of strength coming from somewhere other than God, the world wouldn’t be the mess it still is today. We cling to those mirages when we should be clinging to God. I don’t know the answer to this.
I do know that it’s during those silent moments after I have broken down completely, abandoned all notions of personal weapons, armor, and ability, that I feel God most strongly, a hand on my shoulder, or a soft whisper in the dark, that now I have admitted that without His guidance I am so firmly at rock bottom, He will help me to start the long journey back upwards. It’s when my strength of self is gone like leaves in the wind that I receive, in weakness, strength from God to keep going, and realise the strength He provides me with is so much better than the pallid shadow of it I had before. It’s when I look about me and see that although I own many possessions, I am poor in the possessions of faith, that God puts His gifts in my trembling hands. It’s when I stop staring at the problems and worries of my weeks and days, and, taking my focus from the world and fix my eyes instead on God, that he shields me most and stops me from getting lost in the crowds.
There is something beautiful in those moments when I am closer to having a child’s faith than ever, in those quiet minutes that never last long enough, when I am overcome with the sense of futility in trying to do this life alone. Life – it is too painful and yet too wonderful to do alone. At the moment, I know that I am weakened. I know that my sense of self is flickering and my reserves of hope are often low. I know that I am bleeding out from everlasting exhaustion and often given over to despair. All I can do is to keep kneeling, keep breathing, and fix my eyes on God and remember that it is written on my heart as on tablets of stone that He will give me true strength that will not buckle under pressure, and the riches of faith that will see me through these dark hours.
Let the weak say, ‘I am strong’. Let the strong say, ‘I am weak’. Two sides of the same, human, coin, surely?