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Sing One of the Odes of Solomon Today

by Shirley Paulson, PhD

At a time when we can’t even worship together in our churches or places of worship, because of the coronavirus-induced social distancing, we are called upon to create and build communities in new ways. I want to celebrate one of the gifts our community at Early Christian Texts cherishes. It’s a gift that fortifies each other and brings light to the rest of the world. We don’t own it, of course, but we can share it freely.

The Odes of Solomon!

The oldest collection of Christian hymns still speaks the love in our hearts and opens the space for praise and gratitude all around us. We’re so accustomed to reading about early Christians, but now try to imagine them singing! And today, we invite you to sing again. Taken together, these ancient odes express a wide variety of spiritual thought and experience, but the one I think we can ‘sing together’ from our socially distanced places is Ode #8.

How do we sing it together? We may not hear each other at a distance, but I invite you to listen to the opening lines of this setting for Ode 8 (“Open Your Heart”), composed by Natalie Renee Perkins.

“Open; open your hearts to the dancing joy of the Lord
And let your love abound from heart to lips:
In order to bring forth the fruits for the Lord, a holy life,
And to speak with attention in his light.
Stand and be restored,
All of you who were once flattened.
Speak, you who were silent.
Your mouth has been opened. …”

Listen again, and this time, sing along.

We’re singing together from the far reaches of this community. The rest of the words of Ode #8 are at the bottom of the page. Make up your own tune, if you’d like, and share it with us.

Sing when no one can hear us? Yes, because each one of us who sings from the heart is multiplying the true joy of the Lord. Singing in the darkness brings out at least a pinprick of light for someone somewhere.

We don’t really know what this ode sounded like when the first Christian congregation sang it, and it is true that the original composer of this music probably didn’t envision it with such a modern sound as we hear from Natalie! But hearing it this way with 21st-century ears helps us to imagine the ancient words in the hearts and minds of real people with real concerns. We can’t be mentally stuck on diseases, financial woes, and fear – and sing at the same time.

These odes – like the psalms of the Hebrew Bible – were written by different people under different circumstances. But all of them knew the power of praising God even in the midst of the greatest of human struggles. Are our times any different?

Our songs are needed, our joy is needed, our love for one another is needed. Let us know when you shouted (or even whispered) your ode! The more we sing our praise and love, the more healing light we shed for the world.

Odes of Solomon: Ode #8

Open; open your hearts to the dancing of the Lord
And let your love abound from heart to lips:
In order to bring forth the fruits for the Lord, a holy life,
And to speak with attention in his light.
Stand and be restored,
All of you who were once flattened.
Speak, you who were silent.
Your mouth has been opened.

From now on be lifted up, you who were destroyed
Since your justice has been raised.
For the Right Hand of the Lord is with you all,
And she will be a helper for you.
Peace was prepared for you,
Before what may be your war.[Christ speaks] Hear the word of truth, and
Receive the knowledge of the Most High.
Your flesh may not understand what I say to you,
Nor your clothing what I show you.
Keep my mystery, you who are kept by it.
Keep my faith, you who are kept by it.
Recognize my knowledge, you who, in truth, know me.

Love me with gentleness, those who love.
For I do not turn my face from my own,
Because I recognize them.
Even from before, when they did not yet exist, I knew them.
And I imprinted a seal on their faces.
I fashioned their members,
And I presented my own breasts for them,
So they could drink my own consecrated milk, that through it they might live.
I am delighted by them,
And am not confused by them.
For they are my own creation,
The force of my thoughts.

Who, therefore, will stand against my creation?
Moreover, who is defiant to them?
I willed and formed both mind and heart,
And they are my own,
By my own Right Hand I have written my chosen things.
My justice goes before them,
They will not be separated from my name
Because it is with them.

[Odist speaks] Seek and satiate [them],
And remain in the compassion of the Lord,
Those who are loved by the beloved,
And those who are protected by the one who lives,
And who are released by the one who was broken.
You shall be found without corruption in all the generations.
On account of the name of your Father.

Halleluia.

Natalie Renee Perkins "Songs of Your Truth" cover image

Graphic by Minorities

Taussig, Hal. A New New Testament: A Bible for the Twenty-First Century. Boston, New York: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2013, 175-6.

If you want to purchase, “Open Your Heart” from Natalie Renee Perkins’ album, Songs of Your Truth, you can do so on iTunes or Amazon.