Music and the Gospel: “Guiding Light,” Mumford & Sons

This week’s SPIRIT talks about the expectations we place on ourselves and that others place upon us. High school is a stressful time that challenges us to balance academics, social lives, work obligations, and activities like sports or music. At times, all these responsibilities can feel like weight of the world on our shoulders and get in the way of making good decisions about grades, relationships, or even physical/mental health. The song “Guiding Light” is about paying attention to the expectations that guide us and those around us. It’s about recognizing that we aren’t perfect, but that we can also serve as beacons of light to our family and friends.

Key Lyrics: If we come back and we’re broken / Unworthy and ashamed / Give us something to believe in / And you know we’ll go your way / ‘Cause I know I had it all on the line / But don’t just sit with folded hands and become blind / ‘Cause even when there is no star in sight / You’ll always be my only guiding light

Questions: What expectations do you have of yourself? What expectations do others have for you? When have these expectations clashed? How do they influence the way you make decisions? How do you balance them out? Who guides you? Who can you guide?

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Music and the Gospel: “Hopeless Wanderer,” Mumford and Sons

God within us guides and inspires us, accompanies us in exciting times and difficult ones. This week, SPIRIT explores how a young woman, 16 and pregnant, makes a difficult decision about the baby with her boyfriend and family. In the gospel Jesus heals Peter’s mother-in-law, who begins to serve him as the first woman disciple. Both women feel the stirring of God within their hearts and put these feelings into action. When you feel the Holy Spirit burning within you, do you smother or fan the flames?

Key Lyrics:So when your hopes on fire / But you know your desire / Don’t hold a glass over the flame / Don’t let your heart grow cold / I will call you by name / I will share your road

Questions: Think of a time when you knew within your heart what decision to make, even if those around you didn’t feel the same as you. How did you recognize this feeling? What did you do to let that feeling move you to action? How can you help this flame within others grow and be put into action?

Music and the Gospel: “Below My Feet,” Mumford & Sons; Second Sunday of Advent

As we move into the second week of Advent and light a second purple candle on our Advent wreaths, it can be so easy to slip into the chaos of the Christmas season. This song offers a chance to set aside some time to contemplate the world around us. We can reflect on how we might use our hands and eyes to serve with and learn from those around us, for that is preparing the way of the Lord.

Key Lines: “Let me learn from where I have been / Keep my eyes to serve, my hands to learn”

Questions: How do you prepare spiritually for the coming of Christmas? In what ways are you utilizing your eyes and hands to learn about your faith tradition?

 

Current Music and the Gospel: SPIRIT Xtra for November 17

In Sunday’s gospel Jesus reminds his disciples that their trust in him will help them find their way through any catastrophe. Jesus’ promise of love and protection reassures the disciples, who often feel frightened and confused. The song “Hopeless Wanderer” is a reminder that even through our most difficult times, we can trust that we are not alone.

Key Lines: So when your hope’s on fire / But you know your desire/ Don’t hold a glass over the flame / Don’t let your heart grow cold / I will call you by name / I will share your road

Questions: What do you think it means to trust in Jesus? When is trusting in Jesus difficult? In what ways do you hear Jesus calling your name? Who do you count on to support you when things get tough?

Ascension

In these bodies we will live / in these bodies we will die. / Where you invest your love, / you invest your life. / Awake my soul …  Awake my soul … awake my soul … For you were made to meet your maker.

                                                                                                                                —Mumford and Sons, “Awake My Soul”

Last week I wrote about dance, about the joy dancing brings me and how when I dance I can find myself and simultaneously connect to something greater than myself. Having spent a bit more time dancing to iTunes in the privacy of my bedroom this past week than I normally do, a new thought has occurred to me: I might be a music person. This thought has come as quite a surprise, as it runs contrary to my inability to carry a tune, to the fact that the only activity I really ever quit growing up was piano lessons, and to my desire to keep the radio off in my car so I can relish the quiet.

Bantu Dancing from NeilsPhotography (Flickr)

Bantu Dancing from NeilsPhotography (Flickr)

But this new self-identification has brought back other memories that indicate I may have been a music person all along (but maybe just thought a bit too narrow-mindedly about who a music person is). For instance, as I type this, I can easily recall the words to some of my favorite hymns from the red Worship or blue Gather hymnals that we used in our church. (“Gather us in the lost and forsaken, gather us in the blind and the lame; call to us now and we shall awaken, we shall arise at the sound of our name…”;  “Let us build the city of God, may our tears be turned into dancing…”; “Sing to the mountains, sing to the sea, raise your voices, lift your hearts…” Seriously, I could go on and on!) As a child, a lot of Sunday mass went over my head, but singing was something that I could participate in, something that made me feel a part of the community. And the joy in the voices of those around me never failed to bring a smile to my face. In my child’s imagination, I envisioned each of our individual voices joining together above our heads to create a gift that was greater than the sum of its parts, a gift that floated up and out of church to be with God in heaven. Now, as an adult, I can see that God was also touching us as we sang together each Sunday.

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The Mumford and Sons song I quote above tells us that we are made to meet our makers. I think that the phrase “meet your maker” is usually connected with death in people’s minds, as in “Will you be proud or ashamed of this or that action or part of your history when you meet your maker, that is, die and face judgment in front of God?” In this sense, it an ominous phrase, one that might scare us into acting as we know we are supposed to.

But as I think about these lyrics as we approach Ascension Sunday, during which we celebrate Jesus returning to heaven to be with God, they take on a new and positive meaning for me. We are made to meet our maker. That is, God made us, all of us human beings, to be in communion with God. Just as Jesus ascended to be with God, we, too, will “meet” God fully in the afterlife. Yet in transcendent experiences in this life, experiences in which we touch something greater than ourselves, I think we already get to meet our maker, if only dimly, if not as perfectly or as completely as we will know God after death (see 1 Corinthians 13:12). In this life, we get to experience mini-ascensions that give us a a glimpse of the glory that comes when we are fully one with God.

For me, music and dance help me to know myself at the same time as they enable me to connect with something greater than myself. For me, music and dance can lead to mini-ascensions, to moments of pure joy and connections with the divine. In musical transcendence, I feel most myself because I am connecting with the God who made me to be this self. Musical transcendence awakes my soul, as Mumford and Sons sing, because in it I am touching the source of my soul.

In what experiences do you experience transcendence, that is, the sense that you are connected to something greater than yourself? Have you met God in these experiences?

 

 

Current Music and the Gospel: “Learn Me Right,” Birdy with Mumford and Sons

Gospel Reflection for March 24, Palm/Passion Sunday: Reflecting on the suffering and death of Jesus can be very difficult, especially when we remember that Jesus suffered and died out of love for others. Even when he was alone and felt abandoned, Jesus continued to bring forgiveness to those around him. The song “Learn Me Right” from the movie Brave reminds us of the power of forgiveness.

Key Lines: We will be who we are/And they’ll heal our scars/Sadness will be far away/So I had done wrong but you put me right/My judgment burned in the black of night/When I give less than I take/It is my fault my own mistake

Questions: Why do you think Jesus chose to follow God’s will for him instead of saving himself? When is it hard to follow what Jesus has asked of us? How does Jesus’ suffering help heal us? Can suffering ever be a good thing? What does Jesus’ death teach us about forgiveness?

Current Music and the Gospel: “I Will Wait,” Mumford and Sons

Gospel Reflection for February 24, 2nd Sunday of Lent: When Jesus’ friends follow him up the mountain to pray, they are able to see his true self. By spending time with Jesus in prayer, we too can get to know who Jesus truly is. Even though life can be very busy, this time spent with Jesus can help us to know ourselves better.

Key Lines: So I’ll be bold/As well as strong/And use my head alongside my heart/So tame my flesh/And fix my eyes/That tethered mind free from the lies/But I’ll kneel down/Wait for now/I’ll kneel down/Know my ground

Questions: Why do you think Jesus chose his friends Peter, James, and John to reveal his true nature to? Who are the people you can share your true self with? When do you feel close to God? How does prayer help us reveal ourselves to God? When is it difficult to pray?