I’ve had an earworm for the last three days. It’s not particularly contagious, and certainly this particular variety of earworm is not likely to have any lasting or detrimental effect, though it is a bit of a nuisance at night time when I am trying to get to sleep. And, after three days, it is becoming a real annoyance.
In case you may not know the reference, an earworm is a term that is used when, for instance, a song or a tune gets stuck in your mind, and won’t go away. This little earworm is a song called “Fields of rock and snow” from a CD by a Canadian folk group called Tamarack. The song, which is done very much in the style of the late great folk singer Stan Rogers, is a lilting melody, with rather poignant lyrics about the struggles of a settler to make a go of his farm in northern Ontario where “all that you will ever grow is fields of rock and snow.”
As earworms go, I’ve had worse. I remember once being plagued for over a week with the Sharon, Lois and Bram theme song, “Skinnamarink.” And no matter how many other songs I played in an effort to replace my earworm with a less grating or more uplifting song, that same little refrain, “Skinnamarinky-dinky-do, skinnamarinky-do” just would not depart. Worse, of course, is that sometimes earworms will be contagious, and all it takes is one person whistling or humming a tune, and presto, it’s taken root in your ear as well.
I love when my earworm is a great praise song or wonderful hymn of the church. The opening service of the first General Assembly I ever attended as a young minister was held in the beautiful Gothic style stone church of Knox in Ottawa. One of the hymns sung was a great Pentecost hymn, “O Breathe of Life, come sweeping.” With over five hundred voices in the congregation and the pipe organ playing with the stops all open, the very building seemed to echo with the powerful prayer for the Holy Spirit to “come, cleanse, renew us, and fit Thy church to meet this hour.” The whole glorious symphony of sound and praise resounded in my heart for the whole week of meetings. Another favourite earworm which thankfully shows up often is “Give me Jesus.”
Sadly, there are other earworms that sometimes make their way into our minds, and they are neither melodic nor benign. Sometimes the earworm is the pervasive cry of our wounded egos self-righteously rehearsing all the unfair slurs we believe have been thrown against us. Sometimes the persistent, nagging voice is the remembered and biting criticism which we heard spoken by someone whose encouraging praise our hearts most desperately sought but never received. Other times, the condemning, judgmental voice is none other than our own, relentlessly berating us for our stupidity, our failure, our lack of goodness. Tragically, our hearts have such great capacity for believing those echoes of blame and shame, denigration and dismissal, and too easily do we allow the whispers and lies about our uselessness and worthlessness enter into our souls as a corrosive poison and conviction.
In the Second Book of Kings, chapter 19, we read the story of a discouraged prophet, Elijah, taking refuge in a cave, where the noise and chaos of wind, earthquake and fire rattled and shook the very stones. Then came the still, small voice of God with a word of truth, power and grace for his life.
Scripture is full of promise, affirmation and grace for our hearts, but too often in life we allow, as I said, the noise and chaos of the earworms of blame and shame to drown out the beckoning beauty and renewing power of God’s whispered assurance of his love and presence. It’s not that God speaks too softly compared to the volume and clamour of the world’s temptations and testings or the evil one’s destructive and seductive lies. It’s that we haven’t trained our ear and heart sufficiently to listen for the word of grace and truth which the Lord has spoken in scripture and continues to announce over us through his Spirit.
God says, “Don’t be afraid, I am with you.” God’s declares, “I have called you by name. You are mine.” God’s announces, “I have etched your name upon my hand.” “I delight over you with singing.” “Never will I forsake you.” “I will remember your sins no more.” “I will make you whiter than snow.” “I will strengthen you and help you by my righteous right hand.” “Nothing can ever separate you from [my] love given in Jesus Christ our Lord.”
Desperate and deep is our need to have those promises and assurances as the holy earworms of the soul. Our hearts cry and longing is to know the voice of Christ speaking into our lives his magnificent word of healing and hope, invitation and power to be forgiven and renewed. And the wonder is that the Lord is ever waiting to give us that word of promise, if we but listen. Why we must give much time to reading, chewing over, pondering and meditating upon scripture is so that rather than merely skimming over words on a page, we allow that holy Word to resonate and take intimate, personal root in us. Why we must give far more time in prayer to waiting on and listening to God rather than speaking at God with our recitation of requests is so that we might learn attentiveness to the voice of the Holy Spirit who is always eager to speak to a listening heart.
One writer suggests that gaining a holy earworm is a bit like programming your brain to remember what’s important. It can be a form of meditation, not unlike the oratorio part of lectio divina, a time-honored Christian contemplative practice. In lectio (or, “holy reading”), you take a short passage from scripture and read it, slowly. Then, when your attention has been “arrested” (that is, when your mind hesitates at a word or phrase), you repeat the word or phrase for several minutes. You take care not to think at this stage, merely to repeat verbally. Then you take a few minutes of silence to let the word or phrase “wash over” you and wait, receptively, as spiritual insights flood in.
One of the reasons we need to listen to praise music is to catch those holy earworms of song and lyric that celebrate the goodness of God. Music has such resonating power in our souls. But far more, why we need to read and meditate on scripture every day and listen faithfully to God and for God in prayer, is so that those precious earworms of his Word and his promises of grace and his invitations to draw close and find healing and joy, can fill our waking and our sleeping moments. There is no melody in this universe more glorious than the voice of our Lord speaking his “I love you,” to our hearts.