While working on the Alleluia composition project with our kids in Easter season (links at the bottom of this post!), the thought occurred to Miranda and I (Deanna) that we could broaden our noticing of Alleluias to the natural world, like how we notice the changing seasons on the St. Dunstans’ grounds.
The word Alleluia occurs many, many times throughout the Bible. It is an ancient Hebrew word that roughly translates to “Praise the Lord!” (The “Yah” is part of God’s name.) It seems to have been something people said, sang or shouted when they wanted to lift up their voices and hearts to God in gratitude or praise.
This may sound a little strange, but we are not alone in singing our personal Alleluias (however they sound, however quietly). The Bible and some very old hymns in the Hymnal 1982 observe that all of creation sings Alleluia:
- Psalm 96 reads, “Sing to God a new song, sing to God all the earth. Sing and bless God’s holy name.” (Fun fact: the adult choir composed together and debuted a setting of this text in 2018.)
- Some of our church hangings include Isaiah 55:12, which reads “For you shall go out in joy, and be led forth in peace; the mountains and the hills before you shall break forth into singing, and all the trees of the field shall clap their hands” (RSV). Here’s another text about creation singing praise – this time, for God’s saving work bringing the exiles home.
- Psalm 19:1-4 (“The heavens are telling the glory of God; and the firmament proclaims his handiwork. Day to day pours forth speech, and night to night declares knowledge. There is no speech, nor are there words; their voice is not heard; yet their voice goes out through all the earth, and their words to the end of the world…”) is about how creation sings out God’s praise even without having literal voices. “The spacious firmament on high” (Hymnal 1982, #409) is an 18th century hymn based on this psalm, which affirms that with a scientific understanding of the universe, we can still hear heavenly bodies proclaiming God’s praise.
- We also have the setting of St. Francis of Assisi’s text (in Hymnal 1982, #400): “All creatures of our God and King, lift up your voice and with us sing, ‘Alleluia.’ “
A more recent version of this same impulse–with a generous elaboration of it–lies in Hymnal 1982, #412, “Earth and All Stars.” This hymn includes the planets, the stars, and the natural world: “Earth and All Stars, loud rushing planets;” and “Hail, wind, and rain, loud blowing snowstorms, flowers and trees, loud rustling dry leaves.” The text also includes human-made instruments: “Trumpet and pipe, loud crashing cymbals;” and “Harp, lute, and lyre, loud humming cellos.”
It also broadens the scope to include “Engines and steel, loud pounding hammers, Limestone and beams, loud building workers;” and “Classrooms and labs, loud boiling test tubes, athlete and band, loud cheering people.” An exhortation to “Sing the Lord a new song” and a promise to “I too will praise him with a new song” punctuate each of these lists, affirming that even the sounds of construction, the sounds of chemistry, and cheers of people at a game count as Alleluias.
If the Psalms and the hymnal understand that humans aren’t the only ones singing “Alleluia,” then that raises a question: where have you noticed these Alleluias out in the world? What do these Alleluias sound like? (Or look like – or smell like – or …?)
And, because humans can only hear a certain bandwidth of possible frequencies (20 Hertz to 20,000 Kilohertz) and volumes (safely from 0 decibels to 90 decibels, depending on the frequency), how else might we notice – and perhaps transcribe – these Alleluias?
If you would like to revisit the previous Alleluia activities, the links appear below:
Noticing activity: https://stdunstans.com/?page_id=35497&preview=true
Composing activity: https://stdunstans.com/?page_id=35512&preview=true