Sunday, November 8, 2009

A Music Minister's Primer

The Thirty-First Sunday in Ordinary Time

The Word:
1 Kings 17:10-16 (The widow of Zarephath feeds Elijah the prophet from her meager provisions; God rewards her by keeping her from running out of flour and oil)
Psalm 146:7-10 (The Lord provides food for the hungry, and sustains the widowed and orphaned)
Hebrews 9:24-28 (Christ did not enter a sanctuary made by human hands, but into heaven itself)
Mark 12:38-44 ("The widow, in her poverty, contributed all she had")

And - Judges 4 & 5 (Deborah, Israel's female judge, and why you need her - Behind every man there is a good woman)
Ephesians 5:10-20 (Do not continue in ignorance, but try to understand what is the will of the Lord)

A crossroads.
The Mass of Remembrance and the Days of the Dead are now past, and the Season of Light (Advent through Christmas to Epiphany) - though not quite here yet - is now in the planning stages.

It's usually all hands on deck for church musicians for the next seven weeks. This is one of the two seasons when even the casual musician tends to get busy, adding to the general business and mayhem that prevails throughout December. It's time for the first string leaders to take a quick breather (hopefully, nobody's noticed) and the second string to take charge (again, hopefully, nobody's noticed).

I've a strong belief that church musicians should pray (often) and it should be part of rehearsals and warm-ups. That's something I wasn't always used to, but through Mike and Jeff and several of the folks at Cornerstone, it's part of the landscape and routine. Over the years I've become just comfortable enough to ad lib when called upon to lead, and that includes impromptu or spontaneous prayer. However, it's easier to have something on which to focus and adapt where necessary. I attribute this to my Catholic upbringing, where everything can be scripted - including private prayer.

For several reasons I was called upon to serve as the team leader this morning. Not wanting to leave out something I believe to be important, I went searching for stuff to use for a launchpad. Deo Gratias to the Internet and Google - and of course to the folks who were blessed enough and received the inspiration to write what I'm about to share. I offer this as a public service - a few thoughtful and prayerful moments (not to mention a few that are accompanied by a laugh or two) can go a long way to keep things in perspective..

The Traditional Musician's Prayer
(with apologies to Francis of Assisi)

Lord, keep always before me
The appreciation of music as one of Your greatest gifts.
Never let me stray far from the tune;
Help me to remain faithful to the spirits
Of those musicians who have gone before
Leaving this lovely legacy in my care.

Lord, let me always remember
What Your Golden Rule instructs
So that I treat other musicians
As I would wish to be treated myself.

Lord, let me always remember
That You give Irish musicians a special gift:
The opportunity to praise and glorify You
While sitting around playing jigs and reels
In dark smoky pubs.

Lord, give me patience always
And help me to remember
That the word "tradition"
Implies sharing.

Lord, give me tolerance always
And help me to appreciate
The Great Mystery:
Not everybody likes what I like.
Never let me slip too far into self-importance
And help me use as necessary
Whatever sense of humor
You may have imparted to me.

Lord, let me never forget
That I don't have all the answers
And that there's nobody
That I can't learn from
(Even bodhrán and banjo players)

And finally, Lord - if it's not too much to ask -
Make me competent first
Then respected
And eventually brilliant.
(But Your will always be done.)


Fifteen Dead-Certain Recipes for an Insipid Musicians' Prayer Group
Source:, June 1988

1. The inner attitude with which you go to group meetings is luckily unimportant. The
important thing is above all loyal fulfilment of duty, which you, as a good
Christian, are willing to take upon yourself. No-one is really counting on your
expecting something special from God during the meeting. So: drop in, and see what’s
going on.

2. It makes a bit of an impression if you arrive too late. This shows a) that you
have a full appointments diary and b) at the same time you have a deeply spiritual
attitude: you look in, even though you really have some pressing things to

3. Don’t have a bad conscience when the same old things disturb you even during the
first greetings of the evening: that F.seems so insecure, that M. is always
talking about her successes (she isn’t actually that good, anyway), and that L.
always sounds so religious. Unity isn’t made by generously looking away from the
faults of others but by recognizing the faults for what they are and trying to
convince oneself that God loves these people as well.

4. Last time, someone asked you if you would lead the prayer time, and you
responded enthusiastically. Now, it was right that you didn’t prepare yourself
specially for this. The more spontaneous, the more spiritual. The others should
contribute wishes. If there are prolonged pauses, just ask "What shall we do now?".
This stimulates discussion. The opposite, a prepared plan, leads on the contrary to a
serious disturbance of the discussion. (This appears rather familiar to me!)

5. During personal sharing, it is important for everyone to give the full story of all
the little things that happened in the past week. The smallest details are particularly
interesting, and lively discussions on technical matters often develop - for example on this or that teacher or on yesterday’s concert.

6. Feel free as well to say out loud where someone has got on your nerves in recent
days. Perhaps the same has happened to others, and we can pray precisely for the
person concerned. Unbridled criticism is edifying when it is laid aside again in

7. Say long prayers and use that theological language which God understands.
Short, powerful prayers only betray a simple mind.

8. It is generally true that concrete prayer rapidly becomes embarrassing. How do
you respond when what you have prayed for doesn’t happen? God (and the people
praying) should not be pinned down to definite wishes. It is better to pray
"Lord, let many come to faith in this congregation (or assembly)" rather than "Help me to start
a conversation about you with S. in the next few days and enable me to pass on your

9. The prayer requests should not demand too much faith. It seems exaggerated if you
have big goals in faith. It is better to let humility speak and to be particularly
thankful for small things. As Christians, we are not worthy to receive great things
from God.

10. Matters for prayer often weigh heavily upon us. This fact should be reflected in a
serious, oppressive atmosphere. Especially in times of intercession, praise and thanks
for God’s powerful working should be avoided. Our gaze should be fixed entirely
on the mountain of problems, which can only be levelled by grim wrestling. This - and
nothing else - is what moving mountains is all about.

11. A point concerning songs. Suggest difficult songs, not the familiar ones that
perhaps help people to fix their gaze worshipfully on God. You are musicians and
have to show your ability in prayer times as well.

12. Take care that no close contacts develop between members of the group. This
could detract from serious studies. In addition, fellowship amongst Christians
should be marked by spiritual earnestness and never by a lot of merriment. Remember:
Christians who like laughing are suspicious...

13. What should you do if a group has been spiritually asleep for weeks on end? It’s
best to do nothing, for, remember, "While they sleep, the Lord provides for those he

14. The spiritual and mental state of the others is basically none of your business.
If someone is feeling bad, recommend some good books or a pastor. It would be a
mistake to deviate from the program in favor of a deeper discussion or perhaps to
have an extended time of prayer for a problem that has suddenly turned up. By the
way, the silliest thing that can happen in a prayer group is for someone (perhaps even
a man) to start crying. Strict measures are to be taken to prevent such situations

15. Just a last word on being interdenominational:
this offers material for hours of discussion. Questions about baptism, the significance of Mary, communion, etc., are so central that one really can’t pray until these things have been sorted out. So: we hope you have a good time!

It is true, dear friends, that the Holy Spirit covers up a multitude of mea culpas during high season. Raise your voices, and raise the roof!

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