“A New Song”
November 10, 2013, First Presbyterian Church of Jesup
Former poet laureate Billy Collins wrote a poem about this earworm phenomenon. He titled it “More Than a Woman,” but has explained in his live readings that you can substitute the title with any song that is affecting you in this way. Here’s an excerpt from that poem:
“Ever since I woke up today,
a song has been playing uncontrollably
in my head–a tape looping
over the spools of the brain,
a rosary in the hands of a frenetic nun,
mad fan belt of a tune.
It must have escaped from the radio
last night on the drive home
and tunneled while I slept
from my ears to the center of my cortex.
It is a song so cloying and vapid
I won’t even bother mentioning the title,
but on it plays as if I were a turntable
covered with dancing children
and their spooky pantomimes,
as if everything I had ever learned
was slowly being replaced
by its slinky chords and the puff-balls of its lyrics.”
“What are the old songs in our lives? What are the songs that play like a tape looping, or a mad fan belt? What are the litanies we tell ourselves? Those persistent phrases that have taken root in our brains. Perhaps it’s “I’m not good enough,” “I’m not good enough.” Or “if only I were thinner I’d be happy,” “if only I were thinner I’d be happy.” Or “the bullies are right,” “the bullies are right.”
Each of these things lodges in our brains and holds us captive with negativity. But there are other old songs as well that we may hear in our minds that don’t come from a bad place, but still can keep us stuck. Maybe that song for you is “I like things the way they are,” “I like things the way they are.” Or “Someone else should make the change,” “someone else should make the change.”
Even thoughts rooted in an original kernel of truth or those that stem from contentment can hold us captive if we refuse to listen to any new voices, any new thoughts, any new songs.
Many scholars believe that Psalm 98 and the Psalms surrounding them were written during the Babylonian captivity. This is recounted later on in Psalm 137: 1-3, “By the waters of Babylon, there we sat down and wept, when we remembered Zion. On the willows there we hung up our lyres. For there our captors required of us songs, and our tormentors, mirth, saying, ‘Sing us one of the songs of Zion!’”
In their exile the people were commanded to sing the songs of Zion, to sing the songs of the lives before their captivity. This constant remembering of the way things were kept them trapped by their memories, and unable to move forward even in their own minds. In Psalm 98 they were called by the Psalmist to sing “new songs.” The people were in exile and sang the old songs, but since they were no longer a reflection of their reality it just led to discontentment and unrest. The Psalmist calls them out of this former life and their current experience and into the much larger reality of God’s abundance.
When will they stop singing these songs? When will they embrace god’s steadfastness?
The Psalmist writes, “O sing to the Lord a new song, for he has done marvelous things… Make a joyful noise to the Lord, all the earth; break forth into joyous song and sing praises. Sing praises to the Lord with the lyre, with the lyre and the sound of melody. With trumpets and the sound of the horn make a joyful noise before the King, the LORD.” (Psalm 98:1a,4-6)
James Kellaris, a marketing professor at the University of Cincinnati has studied the experience of getting songs stuck in our heads and has even been credited with coining the term “earworm.” In his research he writes about the “phonological loop,” which is a short-term memory system in the auditory cortex, or part of our brain the processes sound. When a song or phrase enters into this “phonological loop,” it creates what Kellaris calls a “cognitive itch.” One of the ways they suggest to get this “itch” out of our brains is to listen to new songs that will crowd out the old.
And so, I’d like you to think about the last song you’ve heard that has help you think differently about your experience of God? That has helped you to break out of the old loops in your brain. While some of these songs might be Psalms, hymns, or songs on Christian radio, I know one that has made me think differently is P!nk’s “Just Give Me a Reason.” Particularly in this line: “We’re not broken just bent and we can learn to love again
What a great image of the human condition of sinfulness. Like the captives in Babylon, our songs and old patterns of thought may make us feel lost when they no longer reflect our reality. We can indeed learn to love again, learn a new way of living.
So it’s important to think about this, “are we singing like captives?” Not captives in the most literal sense as the people in the Babylonian exile, but rather captives to old patterns and to our sin.
God’s own son, Jesus came to earth, lived a sinless life, and died on the cross so that we may be forgiven of our sins. We are no longer captives to the sin. We are forgiven people, why are we still wallowing in our sin?”
What songs do you let take root in your brain and in your life?
When we become Christians we learn the Gospel song, the song about Jesus’ love and desire for goodness in our lives. This song about God’s mercy and the grace we can never earn. This is the new song we are to sing. This Gospel song is what we should sing to bring God’s grace and truth to them who need to hear; for all who needs the forgiveness and salvation Christ offers, which is everyone.
If we embrace the truth of this song we will be swept up into God’s great love for us, a love that leaves no room for self-abuse or for any actions that would keep others away from this Gospel message. May we never cease to sing this ever-new song of God’s great love for us demonstrated through Jesus Christ. Amen.
 Collins, Billy. Poetry. February, 2002. http://www.poetryfoundation.org/poetrymagazine/browse/179/5#20605580