by Rev. Lori Ethridge
Minister to Senior Adults
Last Thursday evening, Forrest Cate, Dolly Purvis and I accompanied twenty senior adults to the Cobb Energy Center to see Garrison Keillor of Prairie Home Companion fame. Mr. Keillor opened the show and warmed up the crowd by leading us all in a group sing-a-long. He actually asked if there were any Methodists in the house, as he led us in hymns of the faith as well as in patriotic and folkloric tunes. “How Great Thou Art”, “America the Beautiful”, and “Home on the Range”…these melodies and lyrics comprise the American songbook and have formed us as a people.
There are other songs that have shaped us as well; songs much older than the ones mentioned above. The ancient songs that I am referring to are found in the Psalms. The book of Psalms is comprised of poetry, of hymns, and of prayers to God. In many ways the Israelites were formed as a nation with these texts. The Psalms include poetry which is both religious and judicial in nature. They represent a lifestyle centered around Torah, the Law, and oriented toward, Jerusalem, Zion, as the earthly city of God. They include praises to God and to God’s earthly regent, the king. The Psalms articulate every human emotion from joy to despair. They include not only praises, but also pleas and even laments, as the psalmists grapple with their enemies and with situations in which God seems to be absent, or worse yet dismissive. Most Sundays the invitation to worship comes from the Psalms. Thomas G. Long in his book, Testimony: Talking Ourselves into Being Christian, says, “The way we talk in worship affects the way we talk in the rest of life and vice versa. It’s a provocative idea; worship as a soundtrack for the rest of life, the words, and music, and actions of worship inside the sanctuary playing in the background as we live our lives in the world.”
Part of Garrison Keillor’s delivery style includes musings to himself. Throughout the show he used these musings to allude to the strife we are experiencing in our nation. We are divided in so many ways; racially, politically and economically. Yet, Mr. Keillor masterfully used the group sing to remind us that we are also united in so many ways. Perhaps the Psalms subtly shape us in the same fashion. If we could allow these ancient songs used in worship to train our tongues to praise before we condemn, then our words and our voices would be used to edify and to heal instead of to tear down or to cause harm. Then, as Methodists in the house, we can do as Wesley suggested, and spread scriptural holiness throughout this great land.