Monday, October 6, 2008

In praise of God meet duty and delight

This is the tag line on my church email signature, credited to Erik Routley. "In praise of God meet duty and delight." I have used it as long as I've used a signature, and prior to that it was the scrolling screen-saver on my work desktop PC. It occasionally elicits an interesting comment or reply - often from something posted on Choralnet's choralist. I've had it with me so long that it was a surprise to have someone quite close to my work here say, last week, "umm ... I never really got that."

What? She had just seen the book on my shelf which prompted the use of this quote - Duty & Delight: Routley Remembered. Erik Routley might well be considered the dean of the mid-20th century British hymn explosion. Among his many contributions to modern hymnody, his magnum opus is the 1985 hymnal (published after his 1982 death), Rejoice in the Lord: A Hymn Companion to the Scriptures. This is on the short list of my reference hymnals.

The editors of the Routley memorial, Robin A. Leaver and James H. Litton, explain the quote:
"The title of this volume, 'Duty and Delight,' may puzzle some, but hardly those who through the years heard what Erik Routley spoke or read what he wrote. "Duty and Delight" is a phrase that Erik frequently used. The words, found in Watts' hymn, a version of Psalm 147
Praise ye the Lord; 'tis good to raise
our hearts and voices in his praise:
his nature and his works invite
to make this duty our delight.
convey the rich understanding that true worship is a paradoxical and joyful combination of God's demands and our responses to Christ." (xii-xiii)

For years I have tried to maintain that conviction at the core of what I want to do in worship music. Not only the music we sing (as congregation or choir) but also in our preparation for making music in the assembly. Singing is an imperative in the Christian life; and obeying this command is also such an obvious pleasure - duty and delight!

Here is one example of how the practice of music helps us exegete the Bible and make theological application. Psalm 119:32 reads "I will run in the way of your commands for you set my heart free." Command and freedom - duty and delight. Is it not instructive that the longest psalm is an embrace of our relationship to the law of God? And the last section of the 119th psalm includes these words: "My lips will pour forth praise, for you teach me your statutes. My tongue will sing of your word, for all your commandments are right... I long for your salvation, O Lord, and your law is my delight." Duty; delight. What does freedom in obeying God's law look like in our lives? It must look a little bit like the pleasure we have when we fulfill our obligation to sing.

Sometimes people think (and sometimes say) that serving in a music ministry isn't real ministry. How could it be, since it is so enjoyable? No, this is the paradox we live and serve in. "In praise of God meet duty and delight."

Routley favorites on my bookshelf:
Church Music and the Christian Faith
Twentieth Century Church Music
and a book that clergy, church musicians, committees and elders could profitably read, The Divine Formula.
I don't know how many are still in print. Find one or more, and read some abiding wisdom about the role of music in the life and practice of Christian worship.

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