“Sometimes a light surprises the Christian when he sings,” wrote William Cowper. And sometimes the surprise is in the listening. I sat down in church this morning, feeling renewed after a wonderful weekend (Friday and Saturday are my weekend), one day in Chicago with our nephew and the other wandering through downtown Durham for the Art Walk with Ginger and Cherry, our old friend and new housemate. Both days were filled with sunshine and laughter and food and, well, all good things and I brought them all to church with me this morning. And then the choir began the prelude:
come, thou fount of every blessing
tune my heart to sing thy praise
If I were picking a list of favorite hymns, this one would be at the top, so any Sunday anyone sings it is a good day to me, but this morning I was lightly surprised, to go along with Mr. Cowper, by words and melody I know by heart, and I’ve spent the day thinking about how a heart gets tuned.
You see, I’ve been a guitar player since high school, so I know about tuning something – making sure the strings are tuned to their assigned notes and also to one another. But where my mind went today is something I know more about as metaphor than actually being able to do it with my guitar and that is what is called open tuning. Many guitar players (Joni Mitchell would be the queen) tune the strings so they play a chord without putting any fingers down – open G, open D, open C – so that the solo guitar player can do more with the instrument than just play the chords. One could play the basic rhythm, for example, and add a lead part without needing more than one guitar. (I can’t, but one could.) Emmylou Harris even has a song called Prayer in Open D.
How then do I tune my heart to be open to God?
We celebrated Earth Day in our worship today, so as I was thinking about tunings we were talking about our stewardship of our planet. Ginger and Carla had several quotes printed in the worship guide to help us along. One of them in particular helped me in my tuning.
My profession is always to be alert, to find God in nature, to know God’s lurking places, to attend all the oratorios and the operas in nature. (Henry David Thoreau)
When we lived in Boston we used to go and walk around Walden Pond and we saw some of the remnants of Thoreau’s cabin. When I read the book in high school, I remember thinking he was out in the wilderness, but the pond is not that far from the town of Concord. It was, however, far enough for him to tune his heart to both play and hear new things. And, though, I have never cultivated an appreciation for or understanding of opera, his point is very clear: I begin to tune my heart when I pay attention to what is going on around me, or, should I say, who is going on around me.
I love the idea of knowing God’s “lurking places.” It makes Thoreau’s walks in the woods sound like a friendly game of hide and seek. What little reading I’ve done about open tunings talks about how it opens up the instrument to new things and teaches the guitar player how to think of chords in new shapes since the strings are now set on different notes. How a D chord looks and feels on the fret board is, well, nothing like the D I’ve always played. To learn to play in that tuning means learning to teach myself how to see and move differently and opens the door for me to learn another tuning, or come up with one on my own.
As I was walking home from a busy night at the restaurant, it struck me that I tune my heart everyday to play something. I have a kitchen tuning, a home tuning, a Schnauzer tuning, a church tuning, a Ginger tuning. Most are so familiar I don’t even realize when I retune my heart to move from one song to another. In my best moments, I am intentional about the tuning I have chosen and the intentionality with which I tweak the strings. The melody of today requires of me to go back and fill in the lyric a bit more, I think. Here is the complete first verse of Cowper’s hymn:
sometimes a light surprises the christian while he sings;
it is the Lord, who rises with healing in his wings:
when comforts are declining, he grants the soul again
a season of clear shining, to cheer it after rain
and the first of Robert Robinson’s hymn
come thou fount of every blessing
tune my heart to sing thy praise
streams of mercy never ceasing
call for songs of loudest praise
teach me some melodious sonnet
sung by flaming tounges above
praise the mount I’m fixed upon it
mount of thy redeeming love
Tune my heart to hope and healing, to shine and surprise, to grace and gratitude. Please. Amen.