Once again, our Sony dual alarm clock radio atop the dresser in our bedroom came through at 5:45 a.m. with a musical wake-up call via a preselected station. Dutifully, I rose up with catlike quickness to turn it off, thereby limiting any disturbance to the woman of my dreams, but it was too late. Not for her, but for me. Five simple words from a song slipped through the early morning silence and took hold of me.
As the station’s playlist would have it, I caught a slight snippet from the band “For King & Country.” The last line of their refrain penetrated my brain and took up residence in the cranial RAM of my spaciously vulnerable psyche.
I had a predawn bike ride planned with cycling jersey and spandex bibs already laid out, charged headlight and cyclometer, and two water bottles chilling in the refrigerator.
For the next two-and-a-half hours, as I rode my nearly 50-mile loop through the quiet back roads of Putnam County, my mind rehearsed what seemed like an incredibly short 8-track tape looping a steady repeating chorus of simply, “Oh, oh God forgive us.”
My knowledge base when it comes to neuroscience rivals that of the size of a neuron, yet I am nevertheless fascinated by how it is that music, when linked with lyrics, can so profoundly capture the brain. So it was this past Tuesday morning, with gentle winds coming out of the north, I peddled and sang over and over the truncated lyric, “Oh, oh God forgive us.”
This pointed verbiage acknowledges an unquestionable reality of fault, flaw, brokenness, stumbling, poor choices, neglect and even shame and remorse. Firmly embedded as my morning mantra, I couldn’t help but think about the message I preached two days earlier, the Ten Commandments. Though given as a guide for living and loving well, many struggle to find in them something other than judgment and condemnation. A couple words of the Decalogue are in the affirmative, but most are alternatively prefaced with “Thou shall not.” Inevitably, for many, the inclination is to plead, “Oh, oh God forgive us!”
Regardless of political persuasion or even gender, can any among us distance ourselves fully from the collective proceedings surrounding the appointment of a new justice to the Supreme Court? Summarily impugned, we are somehow unavoidably complicit and can only beckon for mercy with the supplication, “Oh, oh God forgive us.”
We are all hard-pressed at finding much to affirm via the front pages of most newspapers, TV or internet headline news, not to mention the ever-expanding flood of exchanges on contentious blogs. Sadly, all these give little incentive to change our tune any time soon. And so we are often compelled to repeat our universal and too frequent confession, “Oh, oh God forgive us.”
As periodically beneficial as it might be for personal and corporate confession and absolution, lest we all spiral further down into some abyss of seeming self-hatred or hopelessness, may I insert a most encouraging musical interlude?
Almost precisely five years ago today, I found myself cradling our youngest grandson walking around the fall festival at the Bear’s Mill in Darke County. Attendance was scant, as rainy weather kept some patrons away.
While other family members toured and shopped in the mill, the two of us, positioned under a modest tent, were treated to an almost exclusive concert by a talented singer, songwriter and guitarist. The eclectic musical genre of the young man spanned the likes of blues, blue grass, gospel and folk. My young grandson, Jonah, was thoroughly entertained, as was his grandfather.
So moved, I greeted the captivating artist, bought some CD’s and even asked if he had interest to come play somewhere up our way. An unanticipated friendship ensued.
Fast-forward five years to this past Sunday, and my wife and I were in attendance at the young man’s wedding reception. Having exchanged vows earlier in the day, family and friends now gathered near Dayton at a delightful gourmet pizza place called Spinoza’s.
Unlike any other we’d ever attended, this reception had no dancing, no DJ, no toasts and, as far as we could determine, terrific homemade ice cream but no cake. What it did have was a wonderful revolving door of musicians and vocalists randomly taking center stage throughout the evening, blessing the invited guests with an inspiring and impressionable array of songs of celebration. Led off by what is now formally known as The Wallens, Brian on the guitar along with the grand addition of vocal harmonies by his wife, Molly, it was a night to remember.
We all need some “Oh, oh God forgive us” in the course of our days, but that night we were reminded of the need for “Just a Closer Walk With Thee” and to have a “Grateful Heart.” When we’ve lost our way, we’re aided by “This Little Light of Mine.” When we get together, we know to all work ensuring “The Circle Be Unbroken.” Heck, taking off from my sermon from the morning, who wouldn’t want to stand “On the Rock Where Moses Stood?” And yes, those on stage that night hoped one day we can all sing, “I’ll Fly Away” because “I Saw the Light.”
Thanks, Brian and Molly, and all your gifted friends, for helping replay those messages in our hearts every day.
Ken Pollitz moved to Ottawa in 1991 as mission-developer/pastor of New Creation Lutheran Church. His biweekly column provides insights and viewpoints from Putnam County. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org