Consider the term ‘maskil’, when you read the Psalms. Perhaps you’ve never heard of it, and have read over it in the superscription of some Psalms without noticing it, as I did. It’s a Hebrew word, which my Bible’s commentary says probably indicates the Psalm with this obscure word contains an instruction in godliness. There are 13 Psalms that are maskils (Psalms 32, 42, 44-45, 52-55, 74, 78, 88-89, and 142), and in most of them the Psalmist is crying out to God, in anguish. Like Thomas Dorsey must have been doing in the 1930s. So, if I am to learn something from a maskil, it seems I must wail, and I must be very desperate for God. But it blows me away to think that when I’m an emotional wreck, that’s when I am more godly, if I believe what the maskil Psalms seem to be communicating. Dorsey was, understandably, a wreck emotionally, and even withdrew from his music for a time in the wake of his loss. But, left alone with nothing but himself and a piano one evening, Dorsey composed this potent song “Precious Lord, Take My Hand”. It’s not hard to imagine him being in that room with just the music and his God. Dorsey says the tune just came to him from nowhere, and he felt peaceful…with the God he could have blamed for his struggle. As I read the very personal cries of Dorsey’s words, they say something I can identify in my life too.
When I read the words Dorsey wrote in verse one of his contemporary maskil, he’s anxious for God’s presence – begging for communion with the Holy One, longing for home. That sounds a lot like Jesus’ cry when He was torn from His Father’s presence (Matt. 27:46; Mark 15:34). None of us naturally equate tragedy with opportunity, but the maskils I read have me reconsidering life’s troubles. And, an article a friend and church leader sent me recently proposes that churches can and should be ministering to saddened worshippers, helping them navigate through calamity. The point of recognizing sadness and hurt when we sing is not to be maudlin, nor to wallow in self-pity. …it’s to call upon the one who can help, as the Psalmists did. If we avoid admitting these feelings when we worship, how genuine are we toward each other, and do we really trust that God hears us? Thomas Dorsey’s song has power because it’s authentic, and when we sing it together as God’s body, we minister to each other’s wounds. A maskil draws me toward God, where my burden and God’s become one, and my life is renewed by His. That’s what happened for Thomas Dorsey, and amazingly for the rest of us music-lovers, and God worshippers too, when we think about and sing this composition . Dorsey’s song, a ministry to himself in his hurt, has been translated into 32 languages, and he admits was his greatest effort. It’s amazing what God can do through us from the bottom of a deep pit.
You can link to the song’s story as written in ChristianityToday.com here http://www.christianitytoday.com/tc/2003/004/16.16.html
You can link to the article about churches, and celebration versus sadness in our worship here http://www.christianitytoday.com/le/2007/002/17.64.html