Psalm 31; Deuteronomy 7: 12-16; Titus 2:1-15; John 1:35-42
The structure of Psalm 31 caught my attention. Since I had a life that anyone would recognize as full of bad luck, the psalmist’s desperate cries for help resonated with my own, as did the jubilation in relief and rescue. I knew the psalms were songs, but not much more, so I read a little bit about them. Psalm 31 is a formal lamentation in three parts used in roughly a third of the psalms: 1)praise/invocation of God, 2) lamentation over adversities and calls for help from God, and 3) final assurance of help from God. As a musician, I suddenly realized I could relate these four readings to my life--in a metaphor--using both the psalm form and a musical form--the fugue.
The fugue, a type of classical music composition, also has 3 parts: 1)the initial statement of the melodic subject, 2)more freely composed melodic episodes that occur between varied statements of the subject, then 3) the conclusion, which brings back the original voices , usually in a compressed form. This is an oversimplified description of a fugue. We do know what fugues sound like because people still compose and play them; if you’re not sure you’ve heard one, recall the movie version of the mad scientist in his mountaintop castle, playing the organ on a dark and stormy night.
To illustrate the connection between the fugue, the psalm and my life, I could say that the fugue’s subject is a statement of my bad fortune. That subject can be played backwards, upside down, or upside down and backwards. It can be stretched or compressed, and more. It seems that almost every variation of the bad luck statement appeared on its own in my life. When it didn’t, I brought it on myself, then collapsed in remorse and depression.
In episodes between the fugal statements, I worked, wailed, prayed, and hoped to pull together those pieces broken by circumstance to make one whole musical piece. The text from Titus (though I never read it) gave the answer. I cringed at Paul’s recommendation for women and slaves in particular, but I had to recognize that structure was the answer. My rules were specific to my life, my times, my physical needs and restrictions, but there just the same I kept doing my best. Prayed for help. Listened and listened again for the voice of guidance. Looked for the light within and—amazingly--there it was! And the Lamb of God walked by and said, “Follow me.” Mercy and compassion incarnate--and my very life depended on it.
The words of praise didn’t and still don’t come easy. I get parts of the form mixed up. It’s still my life and my fugue in all its fractured beauty, but Grace illuminated the melody. Working, listening and singing within my structure brought the pieces into a workable whole. Not to get all, like, ecstatic, or anything (I’m still an Episcopalian, after all! Lol), but: Praise God! Thank you, Jesus!
Carrie Starr has been a member of St. Margaret’s since 2011. She is a member of the Adult Choir and Chamber Singers and is enrolled in the Education for Ministry course.