What's In A Song?

by Jonathan Settel

Many people know me as a singer of songs. In the winding course of my life, I have tried to understand exactly what a song is and how it relates to the reality of God’s existence on earth. Normally, we often wonder how most of the daily phenomena surrounding us could be part of a divine coherent plan. How could we identify suffering and evil as the handiwork of a merciful God? How do realities that are seemingly so far away from our own possibly fall into place to make a picture that we can understand?

“Rarely, very rarely, there is a moment of insight that makes people realize how all the pieces of the puzzle fall into place. At such times, or at those times, we can understand how every note, every instrument, and participant in God’s symphony of creation plays its role. The result is song. For the Torah’s concept of song is the condition in which all the apparently unrelated and contradictory phenomena do indeed meld into a coherent, merciful, comprehensible whole. When the Jewish people crossed the sea of reeds, they were inundated with chaotic thoughts. The suffering of the Egyptian exile, the deception that led Pharaoh to pursue them, the hopelessness that they felt when they were surrounded by Pharaoh, the sea, and the wilderness; the demands from many of their own number, that they return to slavery. Even Moses’ old recrimination that his arrival in Egypt to carry out God’s mission had only made things worse for Israel. Such doubts and fears disappeared when the sea split, and as we can well imagine, even a simple maid-servant at this sea perceived a higher degree of revelation than that of the prophet Ezekiel in his heavenly vision described in Ezekiel Ch. 1. To the Jews at the sea, creation became a symphony, a song, because they understood how every unrelated and incomprehensible event was part of the harmonious score that led up to that great miracle.”

When I read this commentary out of the Stones’ edition of the Chumash, I was moved to tears because it brought together for me so many different events in my life into an understandable melody . . . a song as it were. So often, I find myself in different realities. Little mini-worlds where there are families and churches, congregations - where there are people who have lives; real people with real problems and real joy with real tears . . . each one is rather like a small little universe within himself.

There are millions of these tiny little universes flying around, vivid in color and life. Sometimes they interact. Sometimes one will move into the path of another and there will be a meeting of realities. Sometimes lives will touch and relationships will build. Sometimes the song becomes discordant or even harmonious, and then they go off into their own paths, again having left behind a memory or a piece of their light.

How many times have I entered into these small little worlds, always thinking, never forgetting about my own reality, my own little universe - my family, my house, my children, my dog, my fish, the turtle that we let go back into the wild.

How many times do I go into a home and wonder if it would be the same if it were my home and then I have to shake my head back into understanding that there are many notes in this song, many notes. Many chord structures, many phrases. Only a few songs. The melody that I sing today may not be the melody I sing tomorrow, but the reality of it is that it exists and that it has meaning within my own reality, even if it is only for a moment. When we utter the words “let us sing a new song to the Lord” what do we really mean? A new song is fine, but I think for me, the melodies of my life remain in the solid understanding of the crossing of the sea of reeds experience. I suppose we all go through our own crossings. We have faith that the Lord will bring us across, but do we trust Him enough to enter the water before it opens. Faith and trust. Trust and faith. Does one live without the other?