Lent Devotions: Surviving song abuse


Editor’s note: This Lent season, Bread Blog is running a series of devotionals written by staff, alumni, and friends of the San Francisco Theological Seminary, which is affiliated with the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A). 

By Rev. Floyd Thompkins

Psalm 137:1-5

Each soul has a song to sing. Every group has an internal harmony that it performs in concert with one another in order to achieve a common goal. For generations the children of Israel had sung their psalms of struggle, triumph, tragedy and praise. But, in this psalm their capturers taunted them with a request: “Sing us one of the Lord’s songs.”

So, the Children of Israel found themselves in the position of asking, “How can we sing?” It is only when challenged that we think about our privilege of singing. In fact, this question – which is in and of itself a form of abuse – is an attempt to ridicule them and to remind them of their defeat and powerlessness. It is a not-too-veiled attempt to communicate the taunt that their God had failed them. But, instead, their oppressors helped them to remember that songs of praise and worship are not just celebration – they are protest!

During a time of attack and vulnerability, full-throated celebration of faith is a protest. A stubborn insistence on hope is a dissonant sound that disrupts the regimes of terror and the narrative of acquiescence. Worship and praise are always acts of transcendence that create disruptions and disturbance to evil and cowardice. Songs punctuate most social movements. These are the sounds of the human spirit announcing to their capturers and their enemies that they will not relinquish their hope, faith, or dignity.

Jesus turned aside to pray in the garden to commune with God. Turn aside from the ugliness that taunts you and sing! Don’t stop now. Sing – full-throated and now more than ever. Scare away your fear and strike terror in the heart of those who were counting on your acceptance of your powerlessness. Sing, worship, and dance like the resurrection is coming, even as you are going to the cross!

Rev. Floyd Thompkins is the director of the San Francisco Theological Seminary Center for Innovation in Ministry.

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