The Celtic Revival: Afterglow (2)
There are many delightful songs, without flaw,
in the great plain of the starry heaven,
many pleasant tunes, many strains of music,
which no reckoning or description can convey.
- Saltair na Rann, Irish, 9th-10th century
Your throne, O God, isforever and ever;
A scepter of righteousness isthe scepter of Your kingdom.
You love righteousness and hate wickedness;
Therefore God, Your God, has anointed You
With the oil of gladness more than Your companions.
All Your garments are scentedwith myrrh and aloes andcassia,
Out of the ivory palaces, by which they [stringed instruments] have made You glad.
- Psalm 45.6-8
I don’t want to give the impression that the period of the afterglow of the Celtic Revival was not part of that great movement of God’s Spirit. While the great flame of revival had died down, warm coals of true spirituality and love for God remained. In writings such as the anonymous Saltair na Rann (The Psalter of the Quatrains), we find similar expressions of faith, piety, and longing as fueled the Celtic Revival. These writings grew out of that period, and in many ways looked back to it with appreciation.
The Saltair tells the story of redemption in verse. It reflects the Celtic Christian love for poetry, creation, the sovereignty of God, the work of Christ, and the mysteries of the unseen realm. Written in carefully crafted quatrains, the Saltair lends itself to singing, and may have been intended for that purpose.
Celtic Christians understood the priority Scripture places on singing to the Lord, and they considered singing to be part of the warp and woof of creation. They imagined the stars of heaven intoning a continuous melody, too sublime for us to hear – the so-called “music of the spheres” – but which infused the entire cosmos with structure, balance, beauty, and harmony. In monasteries of that period, when chants were sung during worship, monks were taught to take a breath at different times, so as to ensure continuous singing, thus mirroring the songs of creation and heaven.
Celtic Christians believed, as we see in the book of Revelation, that Jesus dwells and reigns in an environment of music and singing, a continuous, if unspoken, melody of mutual love and adoration between the Persons of the Trinity, embellished by the continuous singing of departed saints and angels. Thus, even now, as Jesus reigns on His exalted throne, singing and music pervade the throne room of His glory – “many delightful songs” and “pleasant tunes,” all doubtless “without flaw.”
Frequent exhortations to sing to the Lord and to make sweet and lovely music to Him are found in the Scriptures. This is not to say that if we don’t have perfect pitch we should leave the singing to others. We are all commanded to sing new songs to the Lord, to make a joyful noise to Him with songs of praise and celebration.
Singing is evidence of the filling of the Holy Spirit (Eph. 5.18-21). Yet singing is a spiritual discipline much neglected by believers. We sing when we’re instructed to sing, as in worship, but otherwise, not so much. We listen to praise music on CDs or in the car, and we might sing along with those when we do, and that’s all well and good; otherwise, we don’t do much singing.
That is our loss, since singing exercises so many thoughts and affections in a God-ward direction. Singing also provides a useful and pleasing way to rehearse divine truths, recall the work of the Lord, proclaim His redemption, and enlist others in worship. Our neglect of singing is simple disobedience. How will we justify to the Lord Jesus – Who is glad with music and commands us to sing – our neglect of this important discipline?
Celtic Christians sang every day to the Lord, intoning psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs as an exercise of obedient love to Jesus and spiritual reinforcement for themselves and one another. They used songs such as are included in the Saltair to remember God’s mighty works and stretch themselves heavenward.
Even in the afterglow of the Celtic Revival, and in many ways sustaining that afterglow, singing played an important role in the faith of our forebears. It should have a more constant and robust presence in our own faith as well.
Psalm 96.1-4 (Mit Freuden Zart: All Praise to God, Who Reigns Above)
Sing to the Lord! O, bless His Name!
All nations tell His glory!
Salvation’s tidings loud proclaim,
Let earth rehearse His story!
For God is greatly to be praised;
His throne above all gods is raised –
Fear Him, and sing His glory!
Lord, I may not have a good voice. But You command me to sing. I’ll sing to You today Jesus, as I remember…
Sing the Psalms
God has given us psalms to sing to guide and instruct us in praising Him. We should sing them more than we do. If this appeals to you, and you’d like to begin singing the psalms more consistently, you can order your copy of The Ailbe Psalter, and discover the joy of singing the psalms, all set to familiar hymn tunes. Simply click here.
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T. M. Moore, Principal
All Psalms for singing from The Ailbe Psalter. Except as indicated, Scripture taken from the New King James Version. © Copyright 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
Aglow with Song
- T.M. Moore
- September 18, 2018
Singing is an important spiritual discipline.
The Celtic Revival: Afterglow (2)
T. M. Moore is principal of The Fellowship of Ailbe, a spiritual fellowship in the Celtic Christian tradition. He and his wife, Susie, make their home in Essex Junction, VT.