Friday, October 06, 2006

thanksgiving... and lament

I received an e-mail this week from a friend who works as chaplain at a hospital in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania – the hospital which received the Amish girls who were shot on Monday morning in their school house.

I can only imagine what that must have been like. Actually, I can’t.

So as the Canadian Thanksgiving weekend approaches, I have been re-reading an article by John Bell (of the Iona community) called “The Lost Tradition of Lament.” (Sorry I couldn’t find a link to an online version – I have it as a chapter in the book “Composing Music For Worship,” edited by Stephen Darlington and Alan Kreider). He begins his article with a brief description of a school shooting on March 13, 1996, in Dunblane, Scotland, when a gunman “opened fire on classes of children in the school gymnasium, killing sixteen children and one teacher.”

And then, Bell says, “On Sunday 17 March 1996, throughout Scotland, if not further afield, ministers and worship leaders of all traditions were forced with a dilemma – how to reflect a nation’s anguish in liturgy and song.”

How, indeed. What can we sing at a time like this? What MUST we sing? And what is appropriate to say – and to sing – with our children?

I have been musing about this for some time. In part, I suppose, because writing songs as I do for “small and tall” to sing together, I am very aware of the kind of relentlessly upbeat tone that is so often expected of anything that’s considered “music for kids.” And while I've written songs in different "modes" (I'm thinking, for instance, of songs like "Thank You" and "Beloved Child" and "You're Not Alone"), I've never intentionally worked at writing in the form of lament.

Here's a song for worship that a friend wrote in response to 9/11, and an article by another friend in response to the recent campus shootings in Montreal.

I would love to hear from you. What resources are you aware of? What could we – should we – be singing together at such times?

John Bell’s article highlights a number of hymn texts, Scripture passages (such as Psalm 130 and Job 38), as well as a text that he wrote after a conversation with a couple whose baby died an hour after birth. He wrote this in part because of the realization that “what compounded their sorrow was not having anything to sing at the child’s funeral that represented where they were before God…” and that “their sense of abandonment by the liturgy of the church is not isolated.”


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