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Praise songs

CHANNEL SURFING - Althea Lauren Ricardo -

I'm not a very religious person, and I hadn't been to church lately. Yesterday's get-together with friends, though, brought me back to mass and back to the fleeting and yet lasting touches of grace that still, despite my not being very religious, make me a happy Catholic. It often happens when I hear beautiful church hymns—music that skips my brain and strikes straight to my heart. Some time during the ceremony, while I was feeling restless, the choir sang a duet I'd forgotten.

First, “I, the Lord of sea and sky, I have heard my people cry. All who dwell in darkness now my hand will save. I who make the stars of night, I will make their darkness bright. Who will bear my light to them? Whom shall I send?” And then, “Here I am, Lord. It is I, Lord. I have heard you calling in the night. I will go, Lord, where you lead me. I will hold your people in my heart.” The words of the prophet Isaiah, who prophesied the coming of Jesus, and who stepped up to be a God's representative when he heard the voice of God calling for a leader for his people. Oh, to be that kind of leader.

Then, the choir sang another song I'd also forgotten, one of the many songs composed by Catholic priest Michael Joncas, the one my friends jokingly call the Atenean praise song: “And He will raise you up on eagle's wings, bear you on the breath of dawn, make you to shine like the sun, and hold you in the palm of His hand.” And, oh, to be the kind of leader God is, who unfailingly supports and holds his people.

There's another Michael Joncas song that I like, which never fails to let me feel God's grace, even at my most disturbed moments. The refrain goes, “I have loved you with an everlasting love. I have called you and you are mine.” These are words from Jeremiah, another one of the major prophets from the Bible. Oh, to really know that kind of certainty.

One of the last songs the choir sang was a local composition of a Jesuit priest named Manuel Francisco, and it happens to be one my favorite joyful gospel songs, “I Will Sing Forever.” My favorite lines are: “Let us wake at the morning and be filled with your love and sing songs of praise all our days. For your love is as high as the heavens above us, and your faithfulness as certain as the dawn.”

Going back to gospel music also has me reminiscing the songs of Gary Valenciano, like “Take Me Out Of The Dark,” “Natutulog Ba Ang Diyos?” and his version of “The Warrior is a Child.” I discovered the latter when Rico Yan died – it was supposedly one of the young actor's favorite songs.

Of course, having been raised in a Catholic school, and having, at one point, catechism classes in our neighborhood, I have a long list of praise songs I learned first. Some of them, I would say, are eighties classics: “Seek Ye First;” “In His Time,” for which I've recently gained renewed appreciation; “Amazing Grace;” “Jesus, You're the Sweetest Name of All;” and “In Moments Like This.”

I remember a conversation with a friend who's now an accomplished poet, music journalist, and composer for his band: He told me he read the Psalms, and he found the feelings the psalmists expressed inspiring. “They're so angry, so joyful, so passionate,” he said, “they're so angsty.” It helped with his writing, he said. I read somewhere that CS Lewis called their writing homicidal and fanatic. I love it, because it's all too human.

I keep forgetting that the Bible, holy it may be, is also a great work of literature. Perhaps it's time I go back to reading it.

Email your comments to alricardo@yahoo.com. You can also visit my personal blog at http://althearicardo.blogspot.com. You can text your comments again to (63)917-9164421.

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