Last night I had occasion to attend a book signing. The book is Miss O’Dell: My Hard Days and Long Nights with The Beatles, The Stones, Bob Dylan, Eric Clapton and the Women They Loved”, written by Chris O’Dell.
Now, this may not seem related to the subject of a psalmist, but stay tuned here for a little longer. The primary individual is soon to be revealed.
While at this event, my mind was wandering in and around the topics in discussion, and my never ending amazement that 40 years and beyond, people are still turning out to buy, listen to and talk about The Beatles, a group that stopped recording together in 1969. I have ideas on this, some of which correspond with what others have to say, and a few that I won’t go into right now because I want you to stay with me and not throw your hands up in amazement, or something like it.
When I stepped up to my turn for the coveted autograph, I will admit I blathered a bit. God only knows how I would have reacted if there were an actual Beatle on the premises. Chris O’Dell is a lovely and accomplished woman, and she was genuinely gracious in response to my zeal and enthusiasm. After having read the book, I can only just begin to imagine how unreal life must seem at times, compared to her exploits with some of the most famous people ever in the history of music. It is to her credit that she seems a sane person, with joy and perspective as companions on her journey. The fact that she does encounter “fans” such as myself along the way, and is able to fathom our wonderment with humor and grace is much appreciated.
So, on with the psalmist thread. I have been, among other professional and non-professional vocations, a worship leader and member of worship teams. It was a great joy to me being involved in the music of the church, and I studied as I learned and participated in this ancient art. Indeed, the worshipper is given a slightly more elevated (don’t take this wrong) status in the old testament of the bible, going so far as to give accounts of wars being won by sending the worshipping musicians out ahead of the armies. The enemies are sent into confusion and sometimes merely flee in the face of the outpouring of faith as it appears musically with the Lord’s orchestra.
Webster’s defines a psalmist as “one who writes especially biblical songs/psalms”, while Britannica actually has a picture of Al Green, the American singer turned preacher. My definition, from study and experience, would be one who writes songs directing others to God, especially under an anointing or gifting (for that).
Here’s the big question: who can qualify for this gift? Who is a psalmist?
In the Christian church, it seems to be nearly heretical to give this title to someone outside of the Judeo/Christian spectrum. In years past I might also have resisted this. However, after watching performers in the secular realm and observing them, listening and paying attention to what they’re saying, I have found many of them to fall into that category of psalmist. Now, that isn’t to say they’re all fulfilling the role, as they obviously use a very charistmatic gifting for things other than glorifying God. Still, from the new testament perspective, the gifts and callings of God are without repentence. The effects still reverberate with an uncanny power to persuade.
Back to The Beatles. We all (mostly) know that George Harrison dove off the western diving board and into an eastern sea of spirituality, including Hinduism and involvement with Krishna consciousness, sometimes weaving a path that explored various tenents of east and west. I am impressed with the image of his signature in later years that included the OM and a cross, both of which seemed to express his familiarity and acceptance of both. I certainly hear it in the music.
I didn’t follow George’s music when he was making it. I was deeply engrossed in the Christian music movement of the 70′s and 80′s. I went to those concerts, listened to those albums. Eventually I began to be in groups that played contemporary Christian music and enjoyed several years learning about worship, being led by The Spirit of God into the many layers of expression that will manifest in what we charismatics love to rest in: the presence of God. I certainly do not mean to exclude other persuasions from feeling that they encounter God’s presence, as I have been in various settings and know how present He really is among people who love Him. The charismatic movement did, however, bring about a revival in the dimensions into which we can travel.
In the past few years I began to listen again to Beatles music, and subsequently to my long ago favorite, George. It has been a discovery of new music for my ears and spirit. What I discovered in George Harrison’s music was the heart of a psalmist. Much of it will transport the listener as he weaves a testimony of how God has changed and enlightened him. He isn’t just playing a random tune, because those don’t change people. His music has influenced thousands, perhaps millions of people to seek out spiritual avenues.
If we disallow his gifting because it didn’t lead directly to a Christian conversion, then we short change the power of God to dispense as He wills with full knowledge of the paths we each will travel. To the Christian, George’s music still leads to Jesus, because the music speaks of God. When he asks the Lord to “*Please take hold of my hand that I might understand You“, it’s a personal relationship that is being sought. The yearning for a knowledge of God, for a touch from the Almighty is so reminiscent of the great psalms of David as to not be able to deny it’s authenticity. This is a song that qualifies as a psalm.
In looking at the events of the late 60′s and early 70′s, it is impossible to ignore the relationships between all of the seeking that was done and the undeniable Christian revival that exploded, especially out of the west coast of America. The music was being made in large part by professionals who had spent themselves on drugs and alcohol, finally reaching out for a substance that would give life rather than take it away. Their influences were the groups of the 60′s, and more than one of them cited George Harrison as an influence on their search for God. It is not something to be considered lightly. For every seeker who ended up in an ashram or a Hindu temple, there is a person who identifies with Jesus of Nazareth. The Jesus Movement, as it would eventually be called, is a direct result of the quests and foibles of the generation that lived through the tumultuous and sometimes brilliant decade of the 60′s. There were seekers and there were anarchists, to be sure. But it all meant more than just what was seen on the surface. It created a culture that was ready to take whatever they had onto a different, higher (not related to any substance) level.
If there were bodies left along the roadside, there were enduring spirits as well. I perceive George as one of those seekers whose life continued to reflect what he found in that decade: a path to God that would take him on a lifelong journey, accompanied by a gift he could not return or exchange. I know him only through his music and lyrics. I am embarrased when I delve into anything else, remembering that he was the man who most abhorred the intrusion of gossip and unwelcome journalists. My curiosity has to be curbed by my respect for his gift, regardless of how endless that curiosity can become.
I started trying to capture his image in my artwork when I was 10 years old. When I would see his picture in a magazine, or during the Anthology fever, I would again sketch him. The face always an enigma and, to me, difficult to contain on the page. After listening closely, I perceive the enigma was more than physical. His spiritual path had to coexist with secular, popular tastes.
He failed often, it seems, both personally and professionally. But then, so did King David. It’s good to remember that God chooses people, not based on their merit, but their willingness. He sees past our faults and failures, counting only the heart that beats within us…seeing us as we can be, not as we appear.
There are many psalmists out there, and music yet to be commissioned. The art of worship will remain with us as long as the psalmist is allowed to flourish. History has elements of lack concerning the church, and where worship and musical expression are inhibited, then the presence of God is limited. It defies the legalism of the religious void, and like an underground river it eventually breaks through the rigid upper crust and creates a pool of refreshment that cannot be denied.
Let the rivers flow…Let It Roll.
* Give Me Love (Give Me Love, Give Me Peace On Earth) words and music by George Harrison
~ by Glenna Meredith on November 12, 2009.
Posted in George Harrison, The Beatles, christianity, jesus movement, november 29, religion, spirituality
Tags: 70’s, beatles, charismatics, chris o’dell, christian rock, contemporary christian music, George Harrison, hardrock, jesus movement, miss o’dell, november 29, psalmist, psalms, worship music