United Church of Christ

Into the Mystic: On Meeting a Hero

Find the music that touches your heart and use it to grow your spirit. 

Among the things I value from my days as a Catholic, good liturgical music is at the top of the list.

In the years that followed the Second Vatican Council the liturgy in the Catholic world was opened up. It went from Latin to the vernacular. The sacred eucharist could be held in the hand and not just placed upon the tongue where it could not be chewed, but simply dissolved. And music was freed up for new and more contemporary expression.

Folk masses and pop songs with guitars started coming into vogue. Much of what was written was ok – singabe tunes with sing-songy lyrics that, in the third grade, were fun and upbeat and easily memorizable. Although I haven’t sung many of those tunes in 40+ years, I can still sing them by heart.

In time, some very complex tunes with some very sophisticated lyrics and some really good theology were being introduced. For me, there were three sources for this art that stood out. What they wrote and composed went beyond the kitchy, catchy tunes grade school kids loved as they would good nursery rhymes. They were John Michael Talbot, The St. Louis Jesuits, and Marty Haugen. If none of those names are familiar to you – seriously, check them out.

Of the three, Marty was always my favorite. I have a Pandora station that is nothing but good liturgical music (and I am always having to filter out what passes as bad praise music to get the music I really want) – and I call it my Marty Haugen station. His album “Night of Silence”, a collection of Advent hymns, has been a yearly ritual for me. Its music is stunningly beautiful. Long before I can get my heart ready for Christmas the spiritual journey that album takes me on must be completed – over and over again. I highly recommend it if you have never heard it.

Last January, at a bar with a friend and pastor, talking about our favorite music, I told her about my love affair with Marty’s music. She laughed – and asked if I would like to meet him. Turns out he’s a member of her church, and for the price of a sermon I could do just that.

I paid that price yesterday – which is to say I flew to her city, drove to her church, preached that sermon – and got to meet my hero Marty Haugen. Well, it did not disappoint. After lunch, and wonderful conversation, he took me into his home, into his recording studio, and played songs for me on the piano. We connected on a deep and spiritual level and became, I hope not just for that brief moment, friends.

There is something about a song, well-crafted, with a tune that both catches the ear and touches the heart; with lyrics that, as Emily Dickinson would write, tell the truth but tell it slant. Marty is perhaps the best I know at that artful craft – and being with him for the day was a glorious opportunity for me.

Find the music that touches your heart.

Enter the sacred spaces where music and liturgy, where art and achitecture conspire to access the divine.

Welcome in those places what you hear, what you feel, and what you come to know. And use them all to grow your spirit on this, your journey Into the Mystic. 


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