A new day begins. It’s ‘time to sing Your song again.’ ‘Whatever may pass and whatever lies before me, Let me be singing when the evening comes.’ I find these lines from a Christian song by Matt Redman very moving.
At one level, they work for me as a morning prayer, as I look at the day ahead. I may not know what it will bring in the way of joys, challenges or hardships. Or perhaps I do know, and it’s going to be a tough day – an interview, a hospital appointment, a court hearing.
‘Let me be singing when the evening comes. Father God, be with me throughout this day. Help me in all circumstances to live, and act, and speak as Jesus would do. Help me to be courageous and open and honest and loving. Help me to make wise choices. May I be able to say in fifteen hours’ time that today I have lived your way.’
What do I mean by ‘singing’? Not actual singing (although for some of us it may include this), but living according to the score which God has written in our hearts, the score whose notes are virtues such as love, grace, compassion, discernment, integrity.
I’ve been reading a biography of the 17th century poet George Herbert who ended his days as an Anglican priest. It’s called Music at Midnight. The title comes from a story about Herbert told in a biography published in 1670.
One day Herbert was walking from his Bemerton parish to nearby Salisbury to make music with some friends. On the way he came across a poor man, and his even poorer horse, which had collapsed under its load. Herbert stopped to help, assisting the traveller to unload, and then reload his horse once it was on its feet again, and giving him money to buy refreshments for himself and the animal. He then went on his way, but not before telling the man he had helped ‘that if he loved himself, he would be merciful to his beast.’
When Herbert, normally so smartly dressed, arrived in Salisbury with his clothes muddy and dishevelled, his friends asked what had happened. When he explained, someone retorted that what he’d done had been beneath him. To which Herbert replied that he would have had a bad conscience had he done nothing, and furthermore ‘that the thought of what he had done would prove music to him at midnight.’ And he added ‘I would not willingly pass one day of my life without comforting a sad soul, or showing mercy; and I praise God for the occasion.’
What did he mean by ‘music at midnight’? Was it his sense of joy at the end of the day because he had served God humbly? I suspect he could only enjoy making music outwardly with his Salisbury friends when he was prepared to let the music of love sing in his heart.
Or by ‘midnight’ did he have in mind old age, the approach of death, and accompanying soul-searching about how he had lived his life? And would the accumulated acts of his kindness be music to him then, a reminder that he had loved as Jesus called him to love, thereby proving the genuineness of his faith?
‘Let me be singing when the evening comes.’ At a deeper level, these words work for me as a prayer for the final stages of life. May I never stop singing, regardless of anything I may have to endure, regardless of the fact that I may no longer seem to have a role in the drama of life. Even if dementia steals myself from me may there still, somewhere deep, be snatches of the great song.
If we want to be singing when evening comes, we must let the song fill us now, and moment by moment throughout the day and through all our days. May our attitudes, words and actions by choreographed by the music of love.
But what if evening comes – the end of a day, or the end of a life, and there are only tears, not song?
As we stand flogging the poor beast of our faith, someone stands beside us. It is Jesus, who arrived in the Salisbury of heaven wounded and dishevelled, his heart bursting with song. As we watch our faith struggling to its feet, the Jesus puts on his own shoulders the load we have made it bear, and says ‘If you love yourself, be merciful to your faith, treat it gently.’
And in his presence we hear the music once again, and he reminds us that it is not in the end we who sing, but God who sings in us.
‘Let me be singing when the evening comes.’
(Christian Viewpoint from the Highland News dated 10th April 2014)