I have a new colleague, Dr. Franklin Gross. He is an amazing musician and an accomplished pianist. Inasmuch as I am a fan of piano, we hit it off.
Dr. Gross is planning a workshop entitled, Why We Sing. I was intrigued by the title of this workshop (it will take place in November), and it reminded me of Psalm 96. It also reminded me of a scene from the movie, “Finding Forrester.”
Early in this movie, a high school student, Jamal Wallace, is in the home of the great writer, William Forrester, who has become Jamal’s mentor. When Jamal is struggling with writer’s block, Forrester has Jamal copy something that Forrester has written. This action of copying something from a master ignites, inspires, and sets Jamal’s imagination free, vaulting him into his creative mode.
The same kind of thing happens with the artist, Francis Cornish, in Robertson Davies’ novel, What’s Bred in the Bone. Francis is learning to be an artist, and he spends hours carefully copying the drawings of the old masters. This action begins to enlarge Cornish’s capacity for his own creativity.
The 96th Psalm begins with the compelling invitation to “sing to the Lord a new song.” Why is this important? The composition of a new song involves a new poetic action. The word poetry comes from the Greek word, poiein, which means to make, to fashion, or to create.
This is the deliberate action of the artist to make something new with words, or the musician to create a new tune, a new song. The poetic act of creating and the musical act of composing capacitates poet and composer for creativity itself. And when the people then sing the poetic song, Psalm 96, they begin to understand the creative action of God. This gives birth to the people’s beginning to enjoy the enlargement of their own capacities for creativity.
As the 96th Psalm unfolds, the poet challenges nations to collaborate in singing God’s glory to one another. The action of singing this poetic song in harmony creates the international conditions for peace inasmuch as the action of singing this song embodies the movement of spirit—both God’s and humans’. In other words, the poet and composer draw on the creative movement of the Spirit of God as they imagine, write, and compose. In this way, singing of God’s works of marvel opens an inter-national (between nations) awareness and celebration of these same marvels, and the song creates the conditions in which international communion can unfold.
The Psalm embodies the reason for this, the why: the Lord is creator of the heavens, and the heavens embody the light of generativity. The counterfeit of such wonder consists of idols, which at best involve the mechanical imitation of creation—a forgery, or a fake.
Like the Psalm, God’s sanctuary embodies the honor, majesty, strength, and beauty of creation. They are the macrocosm of the cosmos—the world as it has been delivered from chaos into the wholeness of life-generating beauty.
Why does the poet call upon the singer to “ascribe to the Lord?” Why is the action of ascription important? As we ascribe—as we write of God’s creativity from the dignity of our imaginations, we capacitate our imaginations for the same kind of creative action. This is why Forrester wanted his student to copy his masterpiece.
The action of spirit continues in the movement from cosmos to nation to family. Just as the poet calls upon nations to embody the action of God, so does God call on families. The poet seeks communion with the heavens that moves from nations right into families. This communion is celebrated in the sanctuary as the people bring offerings to God. Our generosity with God capacitates us for grace with one another. This creates the conditions in which love can unfold at every level.
This in turn becomes the cause for the celebration of the cosmos: the heavens rejoice and the seas roar in praise of the action of peace generated in and among nations and the action of love generated in and among families. For this, even the fields and the trees of the forest sing for joy.
All of this serves as the foundation and basis for God’s judgment: Does our understanding create the internal climate for communion; or does our militant ignorance provoke hostility? Do our actions cultivate harmony or enflame discord? Does our action unite people, or shatter lives? This is the basis for God’s judgment. The ultimate criteria are creativity and communion.
The creative unfolding wholeness of the world, composed in poetry, sung in song, implemented among nations, and enacted wherever two or more are gathered creates a whole world—a world of peace and love.
The poetic song, the 96th Psalm, bears the capacity for communion.
That is why we sing.