Thursday, December 16, 2010

Meals and Music

We have made it through our third family Advent dinner.  I am both thrilled at our family’s tenacity and amazed at how quickly the time is passing.  We are moving quickly toward the fourth Sunday in Advent and then on to the big celebration itself.

Our 3rd Advent meal last Sunday went very smoothly.  We had a beef tenderloin dish from Cook’s Essentials – a little fancier than we usually go, but fun – and the Mandarin Orange Salad.  We were going to make Reindeer Cookies, but postponed them for lack of time.  We’ll make them soon and write about it, I promise.  In addition to our usual reading that we do with the lighting of the Advent candle, we added a couple of sentences for the kids to practice their burgeoning reading skills.  “Joy to the World” and “Jesus is born” (Advent perfectionists will say this is technically not yet true, but it worked for us).  It was great to have everybody involved.

We had our meal early on Sunday.  Given my commitment for this season, I have been forgoing optional Sunday evening events at church.  Instead, I have been dedicating the day to family and feasting.  But last Sunday was different.

We had a concert at our church.  The North Forsyth United Methodist Church is a new congregation in our area.  Less than a year old, it is difficult to call any of its events “annual,” but this concert is one that we hope will be.  Many thanks to music director, Kieth Ashley for organizing this beautiful and moving event.  In addition to Kieth’s music, the concert included violinist, Michael Giel, and vocalist, Stacy Davis.  We also heard guest singer, Angela Hopkins.  It was a blessing to experience so much talent in one evening.

Usually, I write about food - cooking and eating.  But what I like to think is even more accurate, I write about things that are more than they seem.  Food is a good example.  Eating can be just eating; the act of putting things into our mouths to keep our bodies going.  But eating is really much more than that.  It is an act of drawing the sustenance we receive only at the hand of the God who nourishes us.  It is the experience of the abundance and variety of the world around us.  It is an activity that draws us together with fellow humanity.  In fact, eating points out to us what it means to be human and reminds us that we have needs which we cannot meet alone.  Eating is so much more than eating.

I think the same is true of singing.  My background is in music, though nowadays I practice only as an ardent amateur.  I am very aware of the power that music has to transform us.  It is so much more than just something pretty to hear.  But I think that most of us imagine that transformational power to come only in hearing what we consider to be great and lovely.  While I don’t want to take away from the power of excellent performances, I believe music has the greatest power to affect us when we make it.

You might not think of yourself as “musical” or “talented” but every one of us can lift voices in songs of praise.  Chances are you do this every Sunday – more often than that, if you’re lucky.  Unlike eating, in which we are built and transformed by what goes in, through music we are shaped by what we produce.  What we create, creates us.  What we give to God is used by God in our own formation.  Our perceived ability has nothing to do with it.  All that is required of us is a willing heart and a readiness to offer praise.

John Wesley, the founder of Methodism, held a similar opinion.  Below are his words of advice to all of us regarding singing.

1. Learn these tunes [hymns] before you learn any others; afterwards learn as many as you please.

2. Sing them exactly as they are printed here, without altering or mending them at all; and if you have learned to sing them otherwise, unlearn it as soon as you can.

3. Sing all. See that you join with the congregation as frequently as you can. Let not a single degree of weakness or weariness hinder you. If it is a cross to you, take it up, and you will find it a blessing.

4. Sing lustily and with good courage. Beware of singing as if you were half dead, or half asleep; but lift up your voice with strength. Be no more afraid of your voice now, nor more ashamed of its being heard, than when you sung the songs of Satan.

5. Sing modestly. Do not bawl, so as to be heard above or distinct from the rest of the congregation, that you may not destroy the harmony; but strive to unite your voices together, so as to make one clear melodious sound.

6. Sing in time. Whatever time is sung be sure to keep with it. Do not run before nor stay behind it; but attend close to the leading voices, and move therewith as exactly as you can; and take care not to sing to slow. This drawling way naturally steals on all who are lazy; and it is high time to drive it out from us, and sing all our tunes just as quick as we did at first.

7. Above all sing spiritually. Have an eye to God in every word you sing. Aim at pleasing him more than yourself, or any other creature. In order to do this attend strictly to the sense of what you sing, and see that your heart is not carried away with the sound, but offered to God continually; so shall your singing be such as the Lord will approve here, and reward you when he cometh in the clouds of heaven.

May you make beautiful music this holiday season.  Blessed eating!

Mandarin Orange Salad
2 cans mandarin oranges     
1 med can crushed pineapple
1 small jar cherries              1 ½ c. mini-marshmallows
1 small can coconut             ¾ c. ch. Pecans
¾ c. sour cream
Drain juice from oranges, pineapple, and cherries.  Combine all above ingredients.  Serve chilled.  Enjoy. – Tammi Bass

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