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Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Songstories 32: "You Have Built Your House" (WLP, 2005, from "Christ the Icon")

In the first decade of my tenure at St. Anne's in Barrington, the community, under the leadership of former pastor Fr. Jack Dewes, undertook the difficult task of building a new church, the third one, in fact, to house the Barrington community since the parish was founded in 1884. Like every human enterprise, it was a project that engendered both enthusiasm and resistance; like every human religious symbol, it was rife with controversy and frequently polemics. In the end, though, we had a beautiful new space and a reinvigorated if battle-weary community.

What we didn't have, though, was a song.

Fr. Jack had used a favorite slogan of his as a rallying cry for all the parish meetings and fund-raising that became kind of a parish motto, "This people is the house of God." It might have been the added maelstrom of activity surrounding the building process layered on top of all my regular work, but I couldn't get inspired to create a "theme song" for the new church. We also lived, literally, across the street from the construction site, we were often busy with other aspects of careers and managing a blended family and the challenges of deficit budgeting in the house, so I don't blame myself much! I didn't write much of anything new in those years preceding the millennium.

Then in late 2002 or early 2003 I was approached by Connie Wilson, the former music director at Holy Spirit Catholic Community in Naperville, another large parish about twenty-five miles south of Barrington, with a request that I write something for their church as they were going to be consecrating a new house of worship in October of 2003. She asked me if I could write something for their dedication liturgy. Holy Spirit has a vital music ministry, with organ and piano in the new worship space, and she expected to have a small orchestra to accompany her good-sized choir for the event.

I suspect that what happened was that all the "overflow of powerful emotion" that had built up in the years of being part of the process of building St. Anne's was, in Wordworth's words, "recollected in time of tranquility" as I set to writing a song for the dedication of Holy Spirit without the pressures of my own community's struggles and expectations. I was able to gather up all the insight and inspiration I had been given through the process of being part of a church-building process, and give it away in a song for another community, or better, for all the communities, including my own.

The primary insight was the clear one from the Hebrew scriptures, in the story of David (2 Sam. 7), who want to build a temple for God in his own time. God says to David (I'm paraphrasing here), "You are going to build me a house? Look around you. Did I ever ask you for a house? Who is building whom? It is I who am building you a house." When Solomon gets around to building the temple, in his prayer of dedication (1 Kings 8) he acknowledges the hubris of his project, though he built the temple anyway, and a nice palace for himself as well. Still, we have this: "But will God indeed dwell on the earth? Even heaven and the highest heaven cannot contain you, much less this house that I have built! (v.27)"



Of course, much of the Bible is a matter of coming to the realization that the house of God is not a temple but a people who "worship in spirit and truth" (Jn 4:23, for Christians). In Revelation, too, we finally come to hear explicitly that "God’s dwelling is with the human race. 
He will dwell with them and they will be his people
 and God himself will always be with them as their God. (Rev. 21:3)" In today's (Fifth Sunday of Easter, Year A) second reading, we have Peter's wonderful song (1 Pet. 2:4-9) about the church that has inspired so many hymns and songs through the years, including at least three of mine, and Fr. Deiss's once ubiquitous "Priestly People":
Beloved:
Come to him, a living stone, rejected by human beings
but chosen and precious in the sight of God,
and, like living stones,
let yourselves be built into a spiritual house
to be a holy priesthood to offer spiritual sacrifices
acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.
For it says in Scripture:
Behold, I am laying a stone in Zion,
a cornerstone, chosen and precious,
and whoever believes in it shall not be put to shame.
Therefore, its value is for you who have faith, but for those without faith:
The stone that the builders rejected

has become the cornerstone, and
A stone that will make people stumble,
and a rock that will make them fall.
They stumble by disobeying the word, as is their destiny.
You are “a chosen race, a royal priesthood,
a holy nation, a people of his own,
so that you may announce the praises” of him
who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.
It was out of this matrix of images that I eventually wrote the text and music for "You Have Built Your House," and I tried to make the imagery inclusive, reflective of the hard ironies and sometimes painful realities that are part of church life, while seeing in them the will of God for a diverse and inclusive community of "banker and debtor, prisoner and judge" sitting side by side at worship. The refrain acknowledges that it is God who builds the house, not we, and becomes a prayer that we can become a house for the God who is one with the poor and forgotten:
You have built your house of living stones:
Nothing of our hands can hold you.
Who can build your house but you alone? Who can hold you?
Build us into a house of prayer,
A house of peace, a house of care,
Inn and hospice, fortress, banquet hall,
Home for all.



The verses of the song explore some some aspect of the liturgical action: gathering, word, table, and mission, in terms of being the house of God together. A final coda that lifts the final refrain upward a minor third identifies the temple and the assembly with the reality of God-with-us:
How awesome is this temple, the people where you dwell,
Where earth unites with heaven, Emmanuel!
One last thing for now: one take on the creation myths of ancient civilizations is that many of them begin with the gods building their own temples. Some modern scripture scholars have identified the creation myths in Genesis as being of this genre, so that on the six days of creation God is building a temple for himself, climaxing in the creation of people, and creating Sabbath for people. This is a complex reality, where one can see the political shadow of rejected slavery in the Sabbath myth, and one can also see the hand of the temple cult writing itself into the myth as though to say, "God created you for us. Bring on the offerings!" The only point I wanted to make here is that, from the origins of Scripture, it is God who builds the house of worship, and not people, even in myth!

Here is a wonderful article about Genesis 1, leading to the author's wonderful assertion that "(t)he first six days are really about God building a house. The seventh day, it becomes a home." God builds a temple for self in the cosmos, puts us there, and gives us Sabbath to contemplate the joyful wonder of it all.

Here is another article, which further explores the language of the creation myth in Genesis in a way that uncovers a theology that human beings were created for worship: Homo liturgicus. Fascinating!

Clearly I wasn't cut out to be in marketing, because if I were, this article would have better been written weeks ago, with a note to remind everyone that it would have been a good choice for yesterday's (Easter 5 A) liturgy, since the reading from 1 Peter 2 was heard in the liturgy of the word. But the song celebrates God and God's creation of church for service, and really, it's appropriate pretty much year around, especially as a communion song or a festive processional. Consider this an invitation from a lousy marketer to give it a try!

You Have Built Your House page at World Library Publications

You Have Built Your House - Christ the Icon iTunes link