Friday, October 15, 2010

Prayer without words

Although our family enjoys music, singing is banned at the dinner table.  Otherwise we might find ourselves living in a perpetual opera, with every line sung rather than spoken.

Sometimes the rule is ignored. One evening in August the Common Household Daughters provided dinner entertainment by singing the word “ectoplasm” to the tune of Handel’s “Hallelujah Chorus.”

For our Friday night dinners, we use Jewish Sabbath blessings.  These blessings can be sung, and so we do, except for the blessing for lighting the candles, which we don’t seem to agree on the tune for.  But there is No Singing After the Blessings.

The Youngest Daughter, when asked to say the blessing before dinner, often puts her prayer into song, including a little scat singing for good effect:
“Dear Lord, thank you for this food-dee-dood-deeda-dee, even though there is nothing on the table that I like to eat, and thank you for all of us, swaba-daba dooba, and thank you for all-la-la-la-la the things we have to be thankful for.”

Singing nonsense syllables is actually a quite acceptable form of prayer in Judaism, called niggun.  It often makes this Presbyterian uncomfortable when we are at synagogue and sing “bim, bam, bim-bim-bim-bam” or “lei, lei, lei”, but Presbyterians ought to get out of their wordy heads sometimes and just sing some of that na-na-na-nee-nonsense.

The idea behind a niggun is that words cannot fully express our prayers.  Plus, nonsense syllables make it possible for all to participate, even the youngest child.  After all, as Paul says in Romans 8:26, “we do not know how to pray as we ought, but that very Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words.  Maybe the prayers without words are the most heartfelt prayers. 

Here's an example of a niggun.  It is not in a worship setting, but you can get the idea after a few seconds of listening. 


Angie Kay Dilmore said...

Sounds positively pentacostal. Interesting. I had no idea.

Green Girl in Wisconsin said...

It does sound pentacostal! But I kind of get it (despite that!).