Your words need more melody

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It’s funny, isn’t it, how certain comments will stay with us and gnaw at us and maybe grow more irritating the longer we think about them?

Or maybe it’s just me. I work in the world of words, after all, and I like to string them together in what I hope are interesting ways. And so when I hear a curious comment, or a word that hits my ear at an odd angle, I think about what it might mean.

I don’t know if investment bankers or stock analysts do this, but I do.

“Your German needs more melody” is what my German teacher, Frau Proksch, said to me a couple of weeks ago in Berlin. I was officiating at a wedding at the end of the week, in nearby Potsdam, and so after several wearying days of intensive language classes, I asked her if she would coach me a little in the lines I planned to speak at the wedding.

After we practiced a few times, she said unexpectedly: “Your German needs more melody.”

When I have dared to use a German word in a sermon (not such an odd thing to do in a mostly German-speaking congregation), the typical reaction has been laughter. Like the time I used the word ankommen to make the idea of Advent a little clearer, there was laughter, which was a bit disconcerting because laughter was not the response I was going for at that particular moment. And ankommen is not an especially funny word. What was funny was that I dared to speak it at all.

Anyway, I’ve thought about the melody of my spoken words lately and have decided that my words are not the only ones that could use more melody. I have been listening to a few of the speeches at the political conventions in the U.S. these last two weeks, and I have to say, there isn’t a lot of melody. A lot of shouting, maybe, a lot of anger, but not much melody.

Could it be that my problem is really the whole world’s problem right now, or at least the part of the world I come from? Could it be that there is so much anger and cynicism and (at least in my case) despair right now that melody is in short supply?

The psalms have become my favorite devotional reading in the last weeks and months – mainly the laments. I need someone to express for me, in spiritual language, what I am no longer able to express, in spite of that love of language I mentioned earlier. In Psalm 137, a psalm filled with anger and cynicism and despair, if there ever was one, the writer reflects on the exile to Babylon and states that his words too have lost their melody: “How could we sing the LORD’s song in a foreign land?”

The idea is that the circumstances are so wretched, so hopeless, that it has become impossible to sing. I know that foreign land. I am there now – not Switzerland, but a spiritual place, a land of fear. My words have lost their melody.

“By the waters of Babylon –

                there we sat down and there we wept

                when we remembered Zion.”

About Doug

I have been a writer ever since fifth grade when I won second prize in a “prose and poetry” contest. I am also a Presbyterian pastor, and for several years toward the end of my career I lived and worked in Zürich, Switzerland. I am now retired and live just north of Holland, Michigan, along the lake.

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4 Responses to Your words need more melody

  1. Jürg Kessler July 27, 2016 at 9:28 am #

    Hi Doug, here are three things that came to my mind:
    1. Regarding language: I agree with you it gets worth and worth, even among “normal” people in the street.
    BUT, Reading James 3 and passages like “tell the truth in love” get me to think that this is not altogether a new problem.
    2. Regarding our feelings, I think Habakkuk 3:17-18 is good stuff and
    3. This morning I did read “Jesus is the same, yesterday, today and forever.
    So, there is faith, hope and love even when things in many places seem desolate.
    Thanks for making me think!!

    • Richard July 29, 2016 at 4:28 am #

      Wonderful words of Life, Thank You Herr Kessler

  2. Wendy July 27, 2016 at 10:23 am #

    You put into words at the end where I’ve been lately but couldn’t put into words thanks help to bring me understanding …

  3. Georgia Hamilton July 28, 2016 at 12:39 pm #

    Doug, I took the title of your blog literally, but should have known it carried a much deeper message. You gave me much cause for reflection on what’s happening in the US today, which is very concerning. I read Jurg Kessler’s Bible references and found his conclusions encouraging. Again, thanks for your thoughtful insights.

    Georgia

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