Perceiving Newness

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“I am about to do a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?”

Isaiah 43:19 (NRSV)

Deep in the winter of 2010, I perceived a new thing. It was so quiet, so subtle, so muffled by the clutter and noise and busyness of my life, that I barely recognized it.

It was a song.

It started when I was listening to an Irish harp tune from the 1600’s, and something in it connected with a deep sense of longing that I had within me that evening. I had just preached that morning on the longing expressed in Psalm 63 (“my soul longs for you like a dry land…”), and in the quiet of the house late at night, I put melody and words together to create a new song.

I barely perceived this new song emerging from old melody and ancient scripture, and yet, it came. And I wrote it down. And I sang it softly to myself, for months and months. Then I sang it softly to my husband, and he suggested that I sing it a little bit louder and in public, to our local Northern Ireland congregation. They told me that they loved the way it sounded, loved the idea of combining old melody with ancient scripture, and suggested that I listen for a few more songs.

And here and there, after a month or two or three, I perceived another new song, and then another and another. Eventually, there were enough songs to make an album.

The new thing was beginning to unfold.

I needed partners for this music; partners to bring the songs to life and to help coax this new thing out a little bit farther. I asked the McGraths of County Tyrone to join me, and together we worked on the songs, along with our producer Dónal O’Connor, to usher forth our first Celtic Psalms album in 2013. We had a wonderful, celebratory launch concert, and there was much excitement and a sense of fulfillment and accomplishment.

But the perceiving wasn’t over yet. The new thing was still emerging.

We continued to do music together, even after I moved back across the ocean to the US. The songs kept coming. One, after another, after another, until a second album sat waiting to be brought to life. In 2015, our second volume of Celtic Psalms came out.

Once again, though, there was more newness on the way.

A publishing company began to discuss the possibility of printing songbooks of the albums for choral or congregational use. Meanwhile, the McGraths and I shared our music not only in Northern Ireland but also in the Northeast US. On that 2016 US tour, we found that these Belfast-born songs spoke to people in the big cities of Boston and New York City, and in rural Pennsylvania, and in suburban Maryland, and in small town Princeton, New Jersey. The psalms truly reach across time, place, and culture, and it was a delight to see this with our own eyes.

We could sense the newness springing forth, left and right.

The most recent newness sprang forth this January. We were asked to lead worship at the Calvin Worship Symposium in Grand Rapids, Michigan, and in the course of a week, including worship services and workshops and concerts, we sang before over 2000 people. GIA Publications released Celtic Psalms songbooks for both albums, and those sold out by the second day of the conference.

For a girl who could barely bring herself to sing that first song to her own husband, this was all quite something.

Newness, exploding everywhere. It felt like that first day of REAL SPRING, when you not only smell the growth taking place around you as you fill your lungs with its freshness, but you see it with your own eyes, and it’s bursting with vibrant color.

This was significant particularly because of the many times in the past few years when I felt like nothing, nothing was happening. Perceiving newness requires a lot of listening, and waiting, and hoping, and praying. Perceiving newness demands a certain loss of control, because, really, I am not the one creating it. Sure, I play my part in its co-creation, but essentially, it comes from God. And with this particular project, for a variety of reasons, I have had to wait for long periods of time to see things come into bloom.

So, during that splendid week in Michigan, I was finally able to celebrate the growth that I could see with my own eyes. Rejoicing in all that has sprung forth in the past years. Thankful to the God who brings new things into being. Overwhelmed by the wonder of hearing that quiet song deep in the winter, and then hearing our songs being sung by an auditorium full of people seven years later.

Now that I’ve returned home from that exciting, fulfilling week, I know that the mantra remains the same: the newness continues to unfold. The perceiving isn’t over yet. There is more to come.

This music began by building bridges between Protestant and Catholic communities in post-conflict Northern Ireland. At my workshops at the Calvin Worship Symposium, I encouraged people to use this music to build bridges in their own communities. After all, the psalms are for everybody. They reach across the barriers of time, place, culture, and denomination. They touch the soul and remind us of our common humanity before God. My prayer is that this music will bring healing and wholeness to individuals and communities as they connect with their joys and sorrows, together, before a God who listens compassionately.

This is the newness that I perceive right now, though it’s too early to be able to see the blossoms emerge. Over time, I hope and pray that they will unfold, even if I am not privileged to see that happen with my own eyes.

I am so thankful to the God who asks us to perceive newness. The God who challenges us to pay attention to those quiet movements within and around us. The God who provides the partners and supporters and companions that we all need in order to usher a new thing into reality. The God who nudges us forward when it seems like nothing, nothing is happening. For this God knows that, from just under the surface, a new thing is about to emerge.

Now it springs forth – can you not perceive it?

* * *

The song below features the refrain “Sing to the Lord, to the Lord a new song… Sing to the Lord, sing all the earth!” It’s a paraphrase of Psalms 98, 99 and 100, set to the melody Willy Taylor, and can be found on the first volume of Celtic Psalms.

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The featured photo, taken by Kitty Taylor, is entitled “Lyre” and is based on Psalm 98. Click the link to read her fascinating (and fitting) description of her piece.

 

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