by J.D. Burnett
“Then Christ will make his home in your hearts as you trust in him. Your roots will grow down into God’s love and keep you strong.”
The distinction between sacred and secular music is often lost on me, I must admit. To me, all music is sacred. Typically, we designate choral music as sacred if it uses a scriptural text, addresses or characterizes God or Jesus, or if its text belongs to an established liturgy like the mass.
However, for me, the poetic texts of the authors of the ages often reside firmly in the “sacred” realm without ever proving it by including “God” in the text. The great questions of humanity live in between the lines of the musings of those human writers, and those questions and the answers we’re offered by the church are not separate. Rather, I think they are both the same; they register the dimensions of human experience, and help to articulate the multitudes inside us, which include our opposing ends—our good and bad, our brilliance and obtuseness, our bravery and our fear, and so on.
Johannes Brahms is probably my favorite composer. He was apparently a somewhat surly fellow—spiky and forlorn in personality. We read that he always felt like an outsider; he was frustrated with his own inability to easily connect with others, and lamented the isolation that resulted from it. It’s no wonder, then, that we see in his vocal compositions a penchant for texts that reflect those personal frustrations, especially the ones around yearning for belonging.
It’s not at all uncommon in reading romantic poetry to encounter longing, frustration, absence, disenfranchisement. Implicit there is the recognition of an ideal—something external thing that could be attained but somehow eludes the speaker. The ideal is often a person, sometimes a place, and frequently a state of being. The idea of “home” comes up a lot, as a desired destination or a symbol of arrival, relief, belonging, and peace.
Brahms set a poem by his contemporary, Otto Inkerman, called An die Heimat (To the Homeland). In the third stanza, these lines appear:
Give me back the peace
that I have lost in the distance,
give me your thriving happiness!
“Give me back the peace that I have lost in the distance.” What a beautiful meditation for this Lenten time! The longing, loss and peacelessness the speaker grieves could all be allayed by a return home.
It’s easy for me to conceive of Jesus as a threshold to God, a threshold to home, to peace. I don’t assume to speak for everyone, but I often feel that deep, meaningful encounters with the divine are rare, and that the intervening ones are just glancing and fleeting. I often wonder how to cultivate more frequent deep encounters, but like so many other things in this life, it seems that the more I try to chase those down, the more they elude me.
How do I set a course that just might, over infinite half-lives, allow me to approach peace… to be at home? If I could just know what to DO, I’d DO it.
But Ephesians 3:17 says that “Christ will make his home in your hearts.”
Could this possibly mean that our home has already been made, and that we are never separate from the peace we seek? Perhaps our perception that everything we need is distant — removed from us — is what prevents us from convening with it. Perhaps there’s a lot less DOING to be done, and a lot more opening to be allowed. Perhaps the home Jesus has made in our hearts is our constant access to the divine. Maybe we can always find home.
If we just look inward.
Prayer: Lord, we believe you are at home in our hearts, and that all the peace we so desire already resides inside of us. Guide us to search for you inside ourselves, and deepen our practice of opening ourselves to your abstract residence inside us, that we might discover our every need there. Amen.