Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Song as Prayer

I learned the songs, "Rise and Shine", and "The Johnny Appleseed Song" ("The Lord is Good to Me"), when I was very young and I went through a period of singing them rather ceaselessly while running up and down the beach in front of our house.  "Rise and Shine" may have been from summer camp - it had hand motions with it, which is a dead giveaway, if you ask me. The Johnny Appleseed Song came on a little 45 (yes I know, I'm dating myself here), in a set with a picture book; I couldn't read many of the words yet, and the record would beep when it was time to turn the page, so I could follow along. Remember those? At any rate, I sang both songs incessantly and with exuberance, and I'm thinking my Mom probably gritted her teeth through the entire phase.

It may have been my Cousin Dori, when she came out to California from New York, who brought me to some kind of meeting where they sang about, "The Lord of the Universe" - I must have been 6 or 7 years old, but oh yes, I still recall the words - and that was added to my repertoire, followed some time later by the songs I heard at a Hare Krishna gathering one of my babysitters brought me to.  As I grew older I added several songs, including  The Beatles', "Let it Be", which I'm sure I'll expound upon at a later date.

But the songs with the biggest impact were from a musical. My Mom and my Godfather (I miss you, Malone!), were in Hair together, along with several of their friends, and then Mom went on to do Godspell, a musical show based on the Gospel of St. Matthew. She practiced around the house, then rehearsed in a big theater in Los Angeles, and I learned the songs along with her. The first one that comes to mind is the one that everyone who's ever seen the show, recalls: "Day By Day". The words became a prayer for me, though I didn't realize it at the time. As I got older, they would come to me unbidden sometimes, and I would use them as a touchstone:

Day by day, day by day
Oh, dear Lord, three things I pray:
To see thee more clearly,
Love thee more dearly,
Follow thee more nearly,
Day by day

When I realized it was time to return to a spiritual practice, just about a year ago, this was the song that came to me. I used it as a mantra, repeating it in my head or singing it often, and I started meditating on what it meant, what the words were really saying. I'm not sure whether I had thought about it as Prayer before; but of course, that's what it is - a prayer put to music. It's a simple song, an "ear-worm" that repeats itself over and over in your head and doesn't go away; which makes it the perfect prayer as far as I'm concerned - a mantra that speaks itself! 

There are other songs I have collected, other prayers put to music; some which were intended to be used that way (George Harrison's, "My Sweet Lord" is a good example), and some which maybe weren't, (Depeche Mode's "I Feel Loved" comes to mind), but lend themselves to it. It occurs to me that when a couple has "their song", it's sometimes a form of prayer as well, to the relationship... either because it fits their situation, or because it represents the hopes they share as a couple and brings them joy to think about each other. When they hear it or sing it - maybe the whole song or perhaps just a chorus or a line from it - isn't that a way of asking God (in whatever form one perceives the Divine), to witness and support their relationship? 

I'm curious to know how others see this and think about it. What songs or lyrics lift you up, bring you closer to God, or bring God closer to you?/2/29/12

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