(originally published May, 2011)
Like many of you, I’m a devoted listener of National Public Radio and have enjoyed the segment called “This I Believe”, which consists of essays written by everyday folks who have a core belief that guides their lives. It seems to me this would be a great exercise for any of us – taking time to write a coherent essay on what we do in fact believe. I’d probably start by creating a list:
- I believe in the power of love and forgiveness.
- I believe in family, whatever form that takes.
- I believe in our ability to change lives with small actions.
- I believe in gray areas, and asking questions that have no answers.
- I believe in cherishing what’s important and letting go of what’s not.
- I believe that creating beauty makes the world a better place.
- I believe in telling the truth.
- I believe in the importance of trusting and being trustworthy.
This was an easier task than I thought. I started writing my list without any idea what I would say, but I find that I believe in a lot of things. Maybe, just maybe, I’ll choose one thing and actually write one of those essays someday. I urge you to come up with your own list.
In church, we’re asked every Sunday to make a statement of what we believe when we say together The Nicene Creed (page 358 in The Book of Common Prayer). Credo. I believe…Though not technically a statement of faith, the Te Deum is a hymn of praise that certainly assumes the cadence of a creed, following the general outline of The Apostles’ Creed. The Book of Common Prayer has the two texts helpfully on facing pages – pages 52 and 53 – if you want to make a comparison.
We praise thee, O God; we acknowledge thee to be our Lord.
The text goes on to outline the story of Jesus’ life and ends with the hope that we might be numbered among the saints in heaven. It’s a text that has been set by numerous composers, including Benjamin Britten, Ralph Vaughan Williams, Mozart, Anton Bruckner, and even America’s first well-known female composer, Amy Beach, to name but a few. Musical settings of the text are usually grand, with strong choral outbursts and music that exudes confidence and strength. I suppose those things are defining qualities of belief. After all, our beliefs are things about which we feel strongly and deeply, not equivocally.
Some composers choose to end the Te Deum not with a shout, but quietly. With a plea for God’s mercy in additional lines from the psalms:
O Lord, in thee have I trusted: let me never be confounded.
And I suppose there is another quality of belief to be found in the idea that trust grows out of belief. I think that beliefs are not shouted, but lived, and to trust in something is not to have dogmatic, inflexible beliefs, but to find what we need to be whole and healthy in our beliefs. I trust that God will not let me be confounded (choose your definition: confused, defeated, damned) because I believe in God’s goodness.
I have something more to add to my list above now, because I also believe in the “we” of the Te Deum’s first line. “We” might be the most powerful belief of all. It’s good to acknowledge the power of community, of helping and being helped by other people. Of allowing God to work through other people to form us more fully, whether at any given moment we are on the giving or receiving end of that work.
This I believe.
How could I not leave with one musical setting of the Te Deum? So many to choose from… (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HQoEOcOMkKs)