Dreaming Music

Occasionally when I wake up, I have a bit of music or a song playing in my mind. I always like it when this happens. It seems as if I've been dreaming the music, and it continues to play after I awaken. Which is also remarkable since I have no musical abilities, and I can't carry a tune in a bucket.

Yesterday morning when I awoke, Hymn 401, “The God of Abraham Praise,” was merrily playing along in my head. I continued to hum this hymn as I readied for the day, the lyrics readily coming to mind despite the fact that I’ve never thought much about this hymn. Since this was our processional hymn on Sunday, I suppose it’s at least something I’ve heard recently. But I know little of church music. Instead, my musical tastes run the gamut: reggae, Jimmy Buffet, Rolling Stones, The Who, AC/DC, & Johnny Cash, to more current music like The Heavy, Cake, The White Stripes, Zero 7, Wax Tailor, Morcheba, & Thievery Corporation. I also really like Baroque music as well. But I digress.

I learned from Erich Balling, Christ Church Cathedral’s Canon Musician, that the music for “The God of Abraham Praise” is an ancient Jewish tune that predates the birth of Christ by 300 years or so. It’s in a minor key, so it doesn’t feel as bright or cheerful as major key music. In fact, much of the music we hear in church during Lent is in a minor key. It’s more serious and somber. I feel like it brings us back to the serious nature of observing a holy Lent. But I think it’s serious in the sense that our return to God is an important thing, not something to make us feel bad about ourselves.

Elizabeth Conrad, our Minster of Christian Formation and who leads several Dream Groups (they get together to try to understand their dreams), suggested that since I was dreaming this hymn I should take a look at the lyrics to see if they had any meaning to me. So I did.

“The God of Abraham Praise” was written in 1770 by Thomas Olivers. Olivers had visited a Jewish synagogue and heard this tune (Loeni) and felt overcome with a desire to write a hymn to this solemn, plaintive melody. To me, Olivers’ words and this ancient melody help me in my Lenten journey with Jesus to Jerusalem, to the cross, and to the hope of the resurrection. It reminds me of God’s great love for each of us, of our deeply imbedded (but sometimes ignored) desire to be in relationship with God, and our need to worship God. This music moves us in ways our intellect cannot in the direction of the God of love, Jehovah, the Great I Am.

“The God of Abraham praise, who reigns enthroned above; Ancient and everlasting days, and God of love; Jehovah, great I AM, by earth and heaven confessed: I bow and bless the sacred Name forever blessed.”

I think these beautiful, holy words, combined with this ancient, sacred tune, stirs something very deep in our souls. It stirs the holiness that dwells within each of us.

The Reverend Brent Owens+


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