by the Rev. Mary Earle
from the Spring/Summer 2017 issue of Reflections magazine.
My maternal grandmother, Golda Willis Kopecky, loved to garden. And I loved to be with her in the garden, watching her as she beheld the roses, lilies, sweet peas, larkspur, and other flowers that bowed their heads as she sprinkled them with water from the hose. Often as not, as Golda did this, she hummed. I don’t remember her singing so much as humming. She would hum to herself while cooking, writing, driving.
Over the years, I realized that her humming was partly prayer. A Methodist, Golda came from a strong hymn singing tradition. She was also of a Scots Irish lineage, and had that DNA that predisposed her to see God’s presence in and through all of creation.
My mother sang. Mary Kopecky Colbert loved music of all kinds — particularly the big band music of the 40s that she and Daddy courted to. She encouraged her children to listen to all kinds of music, from classical to jazz, from Broadway show tunes to opera. She even learned to love rock and roll as time went on. She made up funny little love songs for our dogs and cats, songs full of silliness and tender gratitude. (It is worth noting that all of her children strongly inherited this tendency to sing to the dogs and cats that live with us.)
I remember my dad, Gene Colbert, at St. Luke’s Episcopal Church in San Antonio, singing the canticles for Morning Prayer. I would lean against his chest while he sang the Venite slightly off key. I remember and cherish that sense of the sounding, sung prayer coming from within my dad. Well I treasure that gift of knowing the presence of Christ in and through Dad’s hearty participation in the service music of Morning Prayer of the 1928 Book of Common Prayer.
So, over 20 years ago, when I began learning about the history and tradition of the church in Celtic lands (Ireland, Scotland, Brittany, Cornwall, Isle of Man, Wales, Galicia in Spain), I was taken by the phrase “the music of what happens.” This comes from an old Irish legend in which the hero Finn MacCool challenged his warriors to name the finest music of all (it’s worth noting that the Irish say, “Never give a sword to a man who can’t dance.”) The warriors all name various possibilities, trying to please Finn. In the end, Finn MacCool says, “No. None of these. The finest music is the music of what happens.” The renowned Irish poet Seamus Heaney would put it this way, in his poem entitled, “Song.”:
“There are the mud-flowers of dialect
And the immortelles of perfect pitch
And that moment when the bird sings very close
To the music of what happens.”
That deep music, the divine Song that brings all into being, is the very life and breath of God. In our music making and our singing, our humming and our chanting, we embody that divine music.
Another way of perceiving this inherent music, the divine music that plays in and through all that is created, is called “Oran Mor” or God’s song. In fact, “Oran Mor” is also an ancient Gaelic name for God. The Oran Mor is the Great Song from which all things have arisen. This is somewhat similar to the Hebrew verb used in Genesis: when God speaks, the creation comes into being. By speaking, the living God calls forth what did not exist before. Or, following the Gaelic, when God sings, the cosmos is called forth, moment by moment. The Oran Mor is an eternal song, profoundly creative, sung by, in and through the Christ “in whom all things hold together” (Colossians 1:17a).
The sense of “Oran Mor” is that when God sings, sun, moon and stars come forth. Galaxies are born. Landscapes are formed. Creatures appear. Humans, who are able to sing this divine song, join the community of the creation. We are both sung into being and we participate in the living song of the Trinity. We sense this sometimes when humming with those we love, or chanting the psalms during our liturgies. We may know it in the strong chords of rhythm and blues, or in the long-loved music of our courting. The key is this: to listen for the music of what happens. To be attuned to the song of God in and through everything. To seek to be sung and to be part of the song. As the Welsh poet Waldo Williams put it, “The Chief Bard of Heaven seeks us to be words in his ode.”
The Rev. Mary Earle is a retired priest, author, and retreat leader. Her latest book is Marvelously Made: Gratefulness and the Body, available from Church Publishing, and from Amazon. Reach Mary at
For Further Reflection
Read again the story of creation (Genesis 1:1-31) and insert “God sang” for “God said.” Does that change the story?
When do you hear God singing?