I pray all is well and that as the shades of fall are in full swing, you are enjoying the explosions of color across the Michigan landscape. I’m not necessarily a fan of the cold weather that’s on the very near horizon, but I am a devoted observer of the autumn landscape. There are times when the back roads of Michigan are more than breathtaking, and for that, I’m thankful. And for some reason, it always takes me back to my childhood, the days when my brother, sister, and I would bury one another below piles of leaves from a particular tree in our neighbor’s yard. Those were unforgettable moments.
There are other, equally unforgettable moments that are almost always ready and waiting at the edge of my memory’s landscape. And most often the key to their freedom is a familiar song. I think that’s one thing I like about the series of “Guardian of the Galaxy” movies. Part of their charm is that the main character, Peter Quill, has an assortment of music that his mother gave to him as a kid before she died. It’s a collection of favorites from a bygone time. When those songs are playing in the various movies, they are far too familiar to me, too—songs like “Surrender” by Cheap Trick, “Cherry Bomb” by the Runaways, “Brandy” by Looking Glass, Sweet’s “Fox on the Run,” and a good number of others. The one that resonated the most for me was at the beginning of the second film. The Electric Light Orchestra’s “Mr. Blue Sky.” No matter what was on the screen at the time, it almost immediately reminded me of trips to Arkansas with my family to stay at my Papa and Granny’s house on the lake in Cherokee Village. I distinctly remember Jeff Lynne’s voice being one of the last pieces of the north we brought with us before only being able to tune into the car radio the sounds of folks like Charlie Daniels, Hank Williams, Jr., and Elvin Bishop—which by the way, I still love listening to today, as well.
Those days are still with me. The music is a big part of what keeps them cemented in the little compartments of my mind. The funny thing is, I don’t remember really liking the songs all that much back then. But now, I can’t get enough of them.
I suppose that while I’m saying this, a portion of the discussion we had in the adult Bible study yesterday comes to mind. I spoke at the beginning about the particulars of Lutheran worship and how important it is that we retain who and what we are as we so often find ourselves facing off with a culture trying to strip away our Christian identity and heritage. This stripping away can include seeing the liturgy as less than a blessing, as something boring and uneventful, rather than designed to set us before a loving God who desires to feed and care for us with His loving gifts. It can comprise a lack of embracing the church’s hymnody as precious, as something that becomes a part of us in ways that eventually allow for us not only to know favorite hymn stanzas, but to know the very hymn numbers, too. I suppose I would add to this that from a child’s perspective, just as the songs I mentioned above carry me back to good places in my life, the liturgy and hymnody have the potential for doing the same in a most important way.
But we have to be in the liturgy with regularity for this particular aspect to be true. I learned and remember all those songs because I heard them over and over again time after time. They are now so ingrained in my fiber that I can literally describe the various landscapes of my childhood by the end of the very first verse of each. The same goes for our lives in liturgy and hymnody. They connect us, and believe it or not, they find a way of working into and staying with us. In fact, just ask your kids to sing a part of the liturgy or to sing a portion of their favorite hymn. Even if they don’t necessarily show a glowing love for either, if they are immersed in it, they’ll do it with ease. If not, they’ll struggle. And either way it goes, it will be a valuable lesson for you as to the importance of the liturgy and hymnody of the church. These things teach the Christian faith. They put the Word of God right into the hearts and minds of parishioners in ways that are hard to forget. And when the kids hear them years from now, they’ll remember those days in the pews beside mom, dad, brother, and sister. And while they may not have necessarily liked it all that much then, they’ll most likely have a fondness of heart toward it, will have a lasting sense of the importance, and will want the same for their own little ones.