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Thursday, February 14, 2013

Valentine's Day! Songstories 2 - Psalm 34 "Every Morning in Your Eyes"

So it's Valentine's Day on Ash Thursday this year. Um, awkward for lovers of chocolates and other confections of seduction. There should be a general dispensation from Lenten resolutions, right?, for St. Valentine's day, the way the Irish clergy do so willy-nilly with St. Patrick's when it falls, say, on a Friday of Lent. Not that there's anything wrong with that.

I think, what can I say about VD (pardon the unhappy acronym...let's make it SVD. Starting over.) What can I say about SVD that won't encourage misbehavior in re Lenten resolve, nor arouse the ire of my Significant Other, about whom bupkes is to be said nor whose visage is to be viewed online, She-Who-May-Not-Be-Tweeted? Music, I think. Music hath charms to soothe the savagely beaten quadregisimal breast.

I'm one of those people who have a hard time switching between the right and left side of my brains unless someone instructs me to do so. I don't quickly see symbolism in books and movies until someone says, "Look for the symbolism," and then I'm all over it. Same with scripture. I had to be trained, I need to keep retraining my postmodern mind, to look beyond the text to the matrix, to look with a form-critical, historical-critical, literary-critical eye at texts that were always just classroom texts to me. 

A good example of this is Psalm 34. One could, with me, be baffled, I think, if one approached matrimony with a courtly romantic mind, and wonder, "Who on earth thought of Psalm 34 as a responsorial psalm for weddings?" It is a lament, after all, and besides the too-easy riffing on the wedding psalm as a lament, why? (Imagine Nathan singing to David with the trouble in the harem, "Who's sorry now?") Here is the normative text of the psalm:

R. I will bless the Lord at all times.
I will bless the Lord at all times; his praise shall be ever in my mouth.
Let my soul glory in the Lord; the lowly will hear me and be glad.
R. I will bless the Lord at all times.
Glorify the Lord with me, let us together extol his name.
I sought the Lord, and he answered me and delivered me from all my fears.
R. I will bless the Lord at all times.
Look to him that you may be radiant with joy, and your faces may not blush with shame.
When the poor one called out, the Lord heard, and from all his distress he saved him.
R. I will bless the Lord at all times.
The angel of the Lord encamps around those who fear him, and delivers them.
Taste and see how good the Lord is; blessed the man who takes refuge in him.
R. I will bless the Lord at all times.

Anyway, into my life, as I have said before, came John Gallen, SJ, with all his gifts and faults, but there is no denying he was a gifted teacher. And I can never forget him talking about this one night, or several times more likely, and possibly preaching on it in context. Speaking about the Jewish vision of reality, he began by citing the many passages of the Jewish scriptures in which it is proclaimed that God's presence indwells in creation, that God has made all things by his own hand, and where God has been, goodness exists. "The earth is full of the goodness of the Lord," says Psalm 33. There is a sense that, fallen as human persons are, creation itself is holy, touched by God, and alive with the divine presence. Psalm 8 marvels at God's presence in the world, "How awesome is your name over all the earth!" The Hallels call the rivers to clap their hands and the hills to ring out at God's presence. 



John said, now think about what Psalm 34 is saying. "Taste and see the goodness of the Lord." In other words, the psalmist is making a declaration about the senses, that the goodness of God can be experienced through the senses - not just by intuition or cognition, as though it were only accessible by thought or special revelation, but immediately accessed through sensibility. What a thought!



Now, in the context of the wedding liturgy, we have a multi-faceted diamond of a text. For not only does Psalm 34 allow us to imagine that in the experience of human love (taste and see) God's presence is accessible, it also suggests that through the new creation of married love the cry of the poor is heard, and fear and shame are cast out. Suddenly, I began not only to grasp the appropriateness of the psalm, but began to wonder how another psalm could be any more appropriate at all!

So, when Terry's St. Louis friend and my choir buddy Mary Beth Nolte was going to be married to Mike Hirte on my birthday in 1993, I decided that for a little wedding present I'd write them a song, and I used as the text Psalm 34. I expanded the refrain from the verse "Taste and see the goodness of the Lord," and did a metric paraphrase of the verse thus:
Every morning in your eyes, all my life,I will bless God always, ever near,Near as you, my friend.Taste and see, touch and hear The goodness of the Lord.
1. Glad thanksgiving my constant song, the praise of God I sing. Hearts now broken will hear my voice, and rise on joyful wing. 
2. Sing with glory the holy name, O join the song with me. In my worry, I sought that strength, and God has set me free. 
3. Face that radiance, the holy light where shame no shadow abide.Those in trouble will cry aloud to find God at their side.
4. God's own angels will pitch their tents around the faithful home. Look around you; O taste and see the blessings of God's own.
copyright © 1993 GIA Publications. All rights reserved. www.giamusic.com 

That's all there is to tell. We recorded "Every Morning in Your Eyes" on our 1993 CD Stony Landscapes.

Psalm for Weddings" on iTunes.

Happy Valentine's Day, church! A special one to Ms. Donohoo, and to Mike and Maribeth - it will be 20 this year, if my slide-rule is correct. And to all my kids and delicious granddaughters, a happy day, full of love and laughter. Taste and see the goodness of the Lord! Use chocolates if necessary.