Clothe yourselves with humility toward one another…
1 Peter 5:5
Long-time music educator and theologian Harold Best writes,
The effectiveness of a liturgy lies in its humility, in the absence of self-proclamation – “I am the liturgy, notice me.” The Word of God is the gathering point for all the content and all the action. If there is a high point or seasonal emphasis in a liturgy, this is to be subject to the scriptural wholeness within which all actions and emphases take place. IN Christ means IN the Word made flesh, and this means that the centrality of Christ guarantees the centrality of the Word, even as we sing or pray or preach or celebrate the Eucharist. It is because of this centrality that all liturgies, whether traditionally framed, denominationally created, or “experimental,” will stand or fall in direct proportion to the centrality of the Word of God (Harold M. Best, Unceasing Worship: Biblical Perspectives on Worship and the Arts, 2003, 73).
Resonant with St. Peter’s apostolic and pastoral plea above – clothe yourself with humility – are similar words from St. Paul in Colossians 3:12, “…put on a heart of compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience.” Interestingly enough, this comes four verses before what likely is the most-cited New Testament verse relative to music: Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God (3:16).
The controlling interest in this latter verse is less about just what kinds of music are “psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs,” and more about inculcating in our lives the “word of Christ.” The contextual emphasis leading up to it is concern about and deference to each other. God is less concerned that we get our music just right than that we treat our relationships with tender care.
“Dwell” comes from the root word for “house.” It can mean pretty much what it means on the surface: To live somewhere. Or it can be more nuanced to mean having an idea, some conviction, or even faith become stronger and more infixed in us: “housed.” If the “word of Christ” is “at home” within us, and attended to luxuriantly (richly) among our community of believers, it becomes the basis for and content of our life together and our corporate expressions of worship.
Life together is key: day by day interaction filled with challenges, stresses, frustrations, and failures, but seasoned with forgiveness, mutual concern, caring support, and the unity of love and peace. Wonderful as these latter things are, they don’t just happen by accident. They come at least in part by acting humbly toward each other.
I was privileged to know Harold Best as Dean of the Conservatory of Music during my years at Wheaton College. One of my cherished memories from those days was learning a hymn I hadn’t known before, “May the Mind of Christ, My Savior,” set to the tender tune St. Leonards, named after Leonard of Limosin, a 5th century French bishop.
Something about it touched me, not unlike in kindergarten when I first heard the tune Slane, an ancient Irish ballad named after the now greenly lovely village where 5th century missionary St. Patrick first lit fires of Easter worship. Even as a child, I fell in love with “Be Thou My Vision” and other things Celtic.
More recently, with apologies to Kate Wilkinson, author of the wonderful original text to St. Leonards, I recast some of its words as part of my own reflections on what it means – in our human frailties – to be clothed with humility as we make music and minster to one another.
May the Word of God dwell richly in our hearts from hour to hour,
so that we may truly triumph only through God’s pow’r.
May God’s beauty rest upon us, full of truth and full of grace,
so that all may see the image of Christ’s holy face.
May Christ’s light and life shine through us, never hidden, never dim,
to the glory of the Father visible in him.