Spiritual habits come in all shapes and sizes….not all concern deprivation or some acrobatically ascetic practice. For many right now, as well as for me, a good night’s sleep is as elusive and as salutary as any habit one could adopt. And may I postulate soul comfort also? Music has long been a source of deep universal comfort and spiritual nurture in the Christian tradition. Chanting, choir, spirituals, solos, instrumental, organ, piano and the like. As we prepare for Holy Week under unexpected duress I invite you to pre-identify, purchase/download/drop in and queue up music which brings you transcendent comfort. Since we cannot gather physically we are focusing upon claiming our personal prayer area as holy space, and auditory markers are significantly helpful in this regard. I don’t quite know about you, but here are some of mine. I weep unabashedly hearing every single one of these selections, and each are easy to explore in more depth anywhere in Apple Music, YouTube or the outlet of your choice. Enjoy with my love and prayers for a comforting preparatory pre-Holy Week!
- Georg Friederich Handel’s moving Pastoral Symphony, the intermission for the Messiah, one among many YouTube offerings available here. Or whichever version you prefer. This Anglo-Germanic Baroque composer always soothes, and this particular piece comforts me before large services.
- Not all soul comfort music is quiet! My singularly favorite pipe piece is, ironically, written by Germans not all that long ago! Highland Cathedral, so majestically haunting as the pipes soar lyrically up and down a tune which winds its way into your soul! This version is more traditional with the opening of the bonnie lad drummer and solo piper, while this version is far more theatrical! The latter opens with Cathedral and proceeds to the ending of the annual Edinburgh Military Tattoo. While I am certainly no monarchist, I don’t mind listening through God saving Queens to get to Scotland’s poet Laureate Robert Burn’s epic Auld Lang Syneset to music amidst such an international kaleidoscope.
- I grew up on praise and worship music in the early years of the emerging contemporary Christian music movement. For some reason this song by Chris Rice always moves me every time (don’t mind the misspelled lyrics!), and the longtime Christian musician Michael W. Smith’s epic rendition of his own song Agnes Dei also. This group stayed in our home when I was young, and performed this song based upon Revelations 5:11-12. Enjoy south Tampa’s evangelical mid-1970’s vibe when you listen! Finally I close this music style with the phenomenal Easter praise hymn In Christ Alone we sang together last Easter in Edwards, presented by a Celtic group actually themselves worshipping as they sing.
- My favorite musical gospel is Broadway’s Godspell, based upon the author’s experiencing worshipping at Saint Paul’s Cathedral, Pittsburgh’s Easter Vigil. The scriptures are taken from Matthew’s Gospel and the hymnody (with very different settings!) from the 1940 Episcopal Hymnal. My daughters introduced me to the outstandingly enthusiastic 2011 Broadway revival, featuring some amazingly talented young vocalists! Their energy is infectious! My favorite is this piece from Matthew 5:12-16’s Sermon on the Mount; enjoy lead vocalist George Salazar crushing it backed by the phenomenally gifted Morgan James (the same Morgan James whose ubiquitous YouTube “cover” renditions of numerous soul, pop and R&B classics propelled her to stardom after this show). Then the show lead Hunter Parrish (who plays Jesus) floating over God Save the People with beautiful harmony, and finally a young Anna Maria Perez de Tagle rendering the familiar Day By Day.
- I close with the Celtic house band I cited earlier, singing Be Thou My Vision, and Deacon Steve Baird’s favorite voice, George Beverly Shea, singing Steve’s favorite rendition of How Great Thou Art. Steve used this in one of his first diaconal sermons and I’ve never heard the hymn the same way ever again.