I took an unexpected little break last week, and felt I needed to do some different hymns in response to current events and national discourse. When I feel upset by life, I retreat into music. I suspect we all do this to some extent. Certain music naturally speaks to us personally, takes the words (or lack of words) and emotions surrounding our circumstances, and gets us closer to the heart of the matter. I believe we all have moments where we retreat into music for comfort, familiarity, challenge, acceptance, or mourning. Naturally, some of us are more drawn by other modes of self expression: painting, crafting, writing, acting, dancing… There’s no limit to the ways humans express themselves. But this week I’ve been feeling scared, lost, and fearful of the future and for our safety. So I retreated into this hymn by Marty Haugen, Shepherd me, O God.
As I’ve mentioned before on my blog, my videography skills and equipment are fairly basic. I love this video not only because of the love and care you hear from the choir, but also because they included the lyrics. Incidentally, this is not the only virtual choir video of Shepherd Me, O God recorded this year; I think a lot of churches looked at a socially distant Eastertide and had the same thought. Where is our comforter? Where is our help? Psalm 23 has long held prime place as a psalm of comfort and promise of God’s presence in the face of trials even unto death. I think we have a tendency to tune out familiar things, however. I’ve been in worship services where the celebrant encourages us to really shout AMEN at the Great Amen, or reminds us to say the Lord’s Prayer slowly this week, with intention. Although written in 1986, this paraphrase is more than capable of breaking us out of complacency when reciting Psalm 23, particularly through the importance and repetition of the words of the refrain: “Shepherd me, O God, beyond my wants, beyond my fears, from death into life.” Going beyond my fears into the life God desires for us is a real challenge for me right now.
Marty Haugen is a Lutheran church musician who has written liturgical settings and choral music for American Catholics and Protestants alike. I find in his music a theology of unity and love alongside a celebration of diversity and difference, a message I think we can all spread. You will also hear in this setting accessibility in the level and performance skills. I believe a hymn needs to be first and foremost singable by a congregation, and even this choral arrangement is something musicians and nonmusicians* alike can pick up and participate in! I’ll be posting a recording of myself playing it later (to further help you and your family in learning and engaging with this hymn), but for today, I hope you can find a quiet place to sit and listen to this music and just be. We are all made in the Image of God, and worthy just as we are. Your value to God is not in your work or your productivity, but in you. Taking some time to simply be with God (usually through playing music, to be honest) is one way I try to go ‘beyond my wants, beyond my fears.’
That’s all I have for today. My hope for you (and me) this week is that we all just rest in the love and care of God, our only Good Shepherd.
*I hate the word “nonmusician”… because I don’t really believe it’s a thing. But alas, I was out of other ways to express myself that weren’t either too wordy or confusing. Please forgive me.