On Sonny, Cher, and prayer
My sister Kathy had a canopy bed growing up. White and lacy, the canopy itself was attached to the posts by large wooden pegs which kind of looked like microphones. Since one really only needed two pegs to hold the canopy in place, Kathy and I frequently removed the other two and used them as mock microphones, singing and dancing along to the scratchy music that always emanated from her record player. We were always content to take turns being the soloist (I have often said that a frequent problem in the world is that everyone wants to be Gladys Night but not enough people are content with being Pips) but there was one song we "performed" in which we shared the spotlight: "I Got You Babe" by Sonny and Cher. Kathy had long hair (just like Cher) which she swung back and forth whilst she swayed (just like Cher) and a strong voice (just like Cher). I was shorter (just like Sonny - at least when Cher was in heels) and not as glam (just like Sonny). Day in and day out, Kathy and I sang "I Got You Babe." Whilst other songs came and went, this one remained, the standard of our repertoire. And - full disclosure - although Kathy grew out of the canopy bed and its pegs were no more, our performances of "I Got You Babe" continued all the way until last year, when Kathy went to heaven, where I now imagine her performing it with Sonny himself.
What was it about that song that for nearly fifty years made us want to sing it each time we were together? Of course the words spoke to us, we who so frequently felt like it was us against the world but we'd win if we stuck it out together. "And when I'm sad, you're a clown. And if I get scared, you're always around." Desperately wanting to escape the loss which was a part of our childhood, the song allowed us to vocalise our belief that we would come out on the other side of it, survive it together. "Then put your little hand in mine, there ain't no hill or mountain we can't climb."
But I think it wasn't just the words that brought us back to the song time after time, nor was it the music (as catchy as it is). I think the mere act of singing that song over and over again unlocked something inside of is, freed us to move beyond the music, beyond the words, to a place where the togetherness and endurance and love about which we sang became manifest in our singing - over and over again - the same words and the same melody. The action became an active symbol of who we were, our place in the world, and where we needed to go. Together. And even if at times we didn't embrace it all ourselves - when we found the metaphorical mountains too high to climb - in swaying together to that cherished text and tune we could feel, see, and believe who we were, our place in the world, and where we needed to go. And it was nothing short of glorious.
This is the dynamic, I think, at play in our second lesson this morning, where Saint Paul exhorts the Colossians: "Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom; teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord." There is a power in repeating cherished texts and music that goes far beyond the texts and music themselves. The mere act of the Church, gathering and saying or singing the same words over and over again, has the power to unlock something inside of us, free us to move beyond it all and to arrive at the word of Christ dwelling in us. Together. And even if at times we don't embrace it all ourselves - when we find the metaphorical mountains too high to climb - in praying together with our cherished texts and tunes we can feel, see, and believe who we are, our place in the world, and where we need to go.
"I got you. I won't let go. I got you to love me so."
It is nothing short of glorious.