I go to three churches. It’s not because I think I’m holier than other people and I need three spaces to contain my glory. In fact, sometimes I worry that I help out at all three churches because I’m so unholy that I need to do things to salve my conscience. I don’t think that’s really why I go all three places but, rather, it’s because I have the freedom and opportunity to help at all three places and so I do.
On Wednesday nights, I lead the music for the high school group at River of Life Presbyterian Church. I’ve been helping there since January and had a chance to get to know several of the students. One of the students is a Brazilian boy who speaks very little English. One of his friends must translate everything into Portuguese for him. Despite the obvious language barriers, he’s been coming for about 3 months now.
A lot of Christians, and especially Christians in the Reformed heritage, disparage songs that have a lot of repetition. You know, repetition. Like in Psalm 136 with “for his steadfast love endures forever.” Like in Psalm 150 with its echoing “Hallelujah”s. Like in Psalm 67, when we say twice
Let the peoples praise you, O God;
let all the peoples praise you!
Like the four living creatures in Revelation 4 [bibleblock]Revelation 4:8[/bibleblock]or the cry of the twenty-four elders [bibleblock]Revelation 4:11[/bibleblock]
(Note: I really hate that I have to put a disclaimer here. “You can’t say everything when you say anything,” as Richard Pratt [incompletely] states but I feel I’ve got to say something so that I won’t get a bunch of hate mail. Since some people read statements like “repetition can be good” or “repetition is in the Bible” and immediately assume that I’ve drifted into apostasy, I must clarify. I don’t mean repetition in the sense of saying a mantra, seeking to go into a trance or repeating a phrase so many times that the words lose their meaning.)
At youth group, we’ve started to sing May the Peoples Praise You. The best thing about singing the song is, first of all, hearing the kids sing the words of scripture and internalize the Psalm. But there are also smaller victories about the song. Whenever we sing Psalm 67, I can look out and see one student singing “May the peoples praise you, O God; May all the peoples praise you,” and know that those might be the only words he speaks in English all day. I don’t know if his friends have translated the words into Portuguese for him yet, I hope they have, but seeing him sing the refrain is a picture of what the song says – all the peoples of the Earth praising God.
Often times, when we don’t know something, repetition is how we learn. It’s how my friend learned the refrain of Psalm 67; it’s how I learned the alphabet when I was a toddler; it’s why I practiced my scales when I was a freshman in high school; it’s why my band classes started the day the same way every single day with our daily drill. Repetition is one way that we both worship God corporately, “tune our hearts to sing his praise” and train our minds to think Biblically. I can imagine small Hebrew children singing Psalm 150 and not knowing any of the words except “hallelujah” (or “praise the name of the Lord”) but singing loudly on the words they do know. “Let everything that has breath praise the Lord!” Everything, whether it knows the language or not. “Praise the Lord!”