Healed By Tritones
A couple of weeks ago, as I was planning music for worship, a hymn that’s been hiding in my 30 year-old hymnal, jumped off the page, exploded in my head and my heart and breathed new air into my flagging spirit.
I was searching for an appropriate text for the Mark 4:21-28 text about Jesus casting out unclean spirits. I’ve never been able to get my head around the whole idea of unclean spirits, much less casting them out with a word. Stumped, I went to my “go to” resource for choosing music for worship, The United Methodist Music and Worship Planner by David Bone and Mary Scifres.
That’s where I found it. Tom Troeger’s text, Silence, Frenzied, Unclean Spirit set to Carol Doran’s very unusual tune, AUTHORITY. “No way!” I thought to myself, “we can’t use a hymn with tritones here!” However, if you’ve ever looked for hymns that address this text, you will find as I did, that the list is extremely short. Reluctantly, I tried it out:
“Silence, frenzied, unclean spirit!”
cried God’s healing Holy One.
“Cease your ranting! Flesh can’t bear it.
Flee as night before the sun.”
At Christ’s words the demon trembled,
from its victim madly rushed,
while the crowd that was assembled
stood in wonder, stunned and hushed.
Lord, the demons still are thriving
in the gray cells of the mind:
tyrant voices, shrill and driving,
twisted thoughts that grip and bind,
doubts that stir the heart to panic,
fears distorting reason’s sight,
guilt that makes our loving frantic,
dreams that cloud the soul with fright.
Silence, Lord, the unclean spirit
in our mind and in our heart:
speak your word that when we hear it,
all our demons shall depart.
Clear our thought and calm our feeling;
still the fractured, warring soul.
By the power of your healing
make us faithful, true, and whole.
Once I started playing Doran’s masterful tune over and over, I was moved by how the tritones in the harmony elevated the meaning of the text in ways that only the perfect marriage of hymn text and tune can do. I found as I sang Troeger’s retelling of the biblical story and his contemporary commentary on it, the scripture became far less strange and completely believable.
Here’s the part that really surprised me: something in my “weary church musician’s post-Christmas, New Year-coming-at-me-like-a-freight-train” frenzied mind and heart was truly calmed and healed, just by the singing.
So friends, what treasures are hiding in your hymnal? Have fun looking, listening, and being fed.
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