Photo by Joanne Bouknight

Seek Ye First

Evensong Homily by the Rev. Abby VanderBrug on Sunday, March 14, 2021.

Music has a way of getting into our hearts and creating a visceral response in our bodies. Just think back to being able to attend a music concert with a crowd of people, or the joy that washes over us when a good song comes on the radio, or the way that simple chant can make us breathe a little deeper.

When I began working here as the Children’s Minister in 2019, I started attending children and youth choir practices. My musical education ended with the recorder so being in a room with the youngest choristers was a perfect fit for me. I started with the St. Nic’s choir, led by our beloved Mrs. Harris, which included a whole bunch of delightfully spirited preschool and kindergarteners singing things like “He’s Got the Whole World in His Hands,” and my personal favorite, “Cauliflowers Fluffy.”  

This year, I started attending the Novice Boys practices, our choir for boys as young as first grade, and learned basic music education from our choir directors – the shape of the notes, the letters of the staff. The first hymn the Novice boys (and myself) learned was “Seek Ye First” which the boys proudly and marvelously sung at our worship service in Advent. 

What is most surprising to me about choir was how many times I found myself singing “Seek Ye First” outside of practice; while I did the dishes, on a walk, in the car. It made a home in my heart and rose up to my voice whenever it felt like it. 

I know so many of us want to give the gift of a rich spiritual foundation to our kids. I hear it from parents all the time. When parents ask me about how we go about teaching our faith, I usually respond, “talk about it together, worship together, grace at dinner goes a long way.” But now I have a new tactic, sing about it. 

Perhaps my favorite new practice I have begun since my time in choir is starting to sing “Seek Ye First” as a lullaby to my daughter at bedtime.  I sing as we rock in our chair. “Seek ye first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things shall be added unto you, allelu, alleluia,” 

My hope is that she’ll let that song take root in her heart, too. I hope that when she’s feeling lost or unsure in her faith, she’ll be able to pull out these words and remember.

For many of us, we can make teaching faith to our children complicated and often desire something tangible, like memorized Books of the Bible. But sometimes all it takes is a song while you do the dishes. Or enrolling kids in a program, like the Novice boys, that gives them the gift of a musical education, the opportunity to learn these songs deeply in their hearts, and a wide variety of other gifts. 

On practice nights, pre and post Covid, all choristers and their families are invited to sit down together for supper together. It’s not just a first class musical education, it’s a spiritual practice and community that they’ll have for their whole life. 

Singing and music are central to our spiritual life and to the roots of our tradition. Just think about Miriam, whom after the people of Israel walk through the Red Sea into freedom picks up her tambourine and sings. Or the prophet Jeremiah, whom we read from tonight, in the depths of exile, when the people were banished from their holiest place, asks in despair “How can we sing the Lord’s song in our forgien land?” or what about King David and his harp.

Who would we be, as a people, without Come Thou Font and Amazing Grace, who would we be without Mary’s Song? 

The song of faith is rooted deep within our tradition and lives and breathes when we gather together to sing these truths. Singing makes theology not just something that we know in our minds, but that we feel in our bodies. 

After all, singing is an embodied experience. One of the first things we learned at Novice Boys practice was how to sit and stand like a chorister, how to pause and breathe, how to feel the counts of the notes. And if we feel the music and the true words about God in our bodies, it is likely to show up in our lives – like the anthem tonight – “God be in my head, and in my understanding, God be in mine eyes, and in my looking; God be in my mouth, and in my speaking.”

My friends, it has been a hard year for all of us, and this lenten time feels as if it has not been 4 weeks but 52 very long lenty weeks. Nevertheless, we have gone on singing, on zoom, or in masks, in distance, in parish halls with the doors open in January. In our kitchens while we do the dishes. 

Thank you to each of you and to all of you who have continued to sing with us, you have taught us how to sing the Lord’s song in a forgein land, thank you. It has carried us all through. 

At the end of every practice or worship service, our choristers say this prayer together, “Bless, O Lord, us thy servants, who minister in thy temple. Grant that what we sing with our lips, we may believe in our hearts; and what we believe in our hearts, we may show forth in our lives.” I can think of no greater hope for our world than this.