Do not get drunk with wine, which is debauchery; but be filled with the Spirit, as you sing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs among yourselves, singing and making melody to the Lord in your hearts, giving thanks to God the Father at all times and for everything in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Since I have an addictive, all-or-nothing personality, I’m glad there are some things I am never in danger of getting too much of. We are never in danger of getting too much music into us, or out of us. And we are never in danger of getting too much Spirit.
That’s remarkable when you really think of it, because the Spirit is the fire at the center of all things. The Spirit is the source of all creativity, all light and all life. Everybody is living in search of Spirit, whether they know it or not. Spirit is where all the beauty comes from, the open secret at the bottom of the other mysteries. To say it is possible to be filled with the Spirit is to say it’s possible to be chock full of love and poetry and music, to actually have dance itself on the inside of you. And it is possible to drink as much as you want, of this new wine?!
These are of course times when people are finding plenty of reasons to medicate with anything but Spirit. I am not unsympathetic. Spirit makes you alert, alive, hyper-aware of your surroundings; and when the world gets hard we are far more inclined to want to numb ourselves to the real than awaken ourselves to it. I want to choose numbness sometimes too, anything to keep me warm, to keep me having to think or feel too deeply.
But the more you experience the Spirit, the more you find there is nothing as intoxicating nor as good as drinking deeply of God’s fiery love, Spirit’s hot beauty. You find that it gets down in all the pores and crevices, into your depths. And the way the Apostle Paul encourages us to stoke this fire in us and in each other, is not with lectures or theology or arithmetic, but with music. Music is largely how the Spirit gets into us, and out of us.
So we sing Psalms---the achingly human songs that are also achingly God songs, the joy songs which are also lament songs, the presence of God songs which are also the absence of God songs. We sing and pray the actual Psalms, the David Psalms, which is the source from which Latin chants, robed choirs, black gospel and the blues all find their origin. We sing hymns, songs that tell the story of God—the story of the Exodus, the story of the incarnation, life, crucifixion, death and resurrection of Jesus; the stories of the saints and the stories of the Church.
And then, we sing spiritual songs. Boy, the back catalog on this one is deep. Because spiritual songs can be a little melodies you sing from your own private tryst with God, simple songs that say God’s name over and over. Spiritual songs can be simple expressions of the heart in your soul’s own native language. But spiritual songs can also be the songs that come up from the places language simply cannot go, songs from the unspeakable—songs of loss and love and longing. Spiritual songs are the songs from a joy too ecstatic and a heartbreak too profound to have words for. Spiritual songs are transcendent songs, for things too sacred to be named with ordinary words. Some refer to this practice as singing in tongues.
But to put it all on the table—and I’m not sure if I’m supposed to tell you this—songs about making love or making cookies can also be spiritual songs. James Brown, Miles Davis, Marvin Gaye, U2, Bon Iver, and J. Cole all write spiritual songs, and a whole bunch of people are making spiritual songs, accidentally. So this category is pretty vast. Soul songs have kept slaves alive and taken empires down. They connect us to God and to each other, they protest principalities and powers that be.
So in these soulless times, this is our strategy to stay full of God, full of love, full of fight—in short, full of the Spirit: we have to make more music, discover old music, invent new music. We have to sing for God, each other, and for ourselves.
Hope comes again, like it always has—in a melody.