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“GETTING A JESUS EARWORM”
A post-homiletical discourse delivered by the Rev. Dr. James R. Beebe
Rector, St. Patrick’s Church, Incline Village, Nevada, January 9, 2011
Let’s see…how can I afflict you this morning. Hmmm. Should it be the Village People? Queen? No – maybe a high dosage of R.E.M. Here goes:
“In the jungle, the quiet jungle, the lion sleeps tonight;
In the jungle, the mighty jungle, the lion sleeps tonight;
In the village, the quiet village, the lion sleeps tonight;
In the village, the peaceful village, the lion sleeps tonight;
Hush, my darling, don’t cry, my darling, the lion sleeps tonight;
Hush my darling, don’t cry, my darling, the lion sleeps tonight.”
[Daniel J. DeNoon, WebMD Health News] They bore into your head. They won't let go. There's no known cure. Earworms can attack almost anyone at almost any time. No, it's not an invasion of jungle insects. It's worse. Earworms are those songs, jingles, and tunes that get stuck inside your head.
You're almost certain to know the feeling, according to marketing professor James J. Kellaris, PhD, of the University of Cincinnati. Nearly 98% of people have had songs stuck in their head, Kellaris reported at the recent meeting of the Society for Consumer Psychology.
Here's the top-10 earworm list:
1. Other. Everyone has his or her own worst earworm.
2. "Baby Back Ribs" (there’s more insanity south of the Mason-Dixon line)
3. "Who Let the Dogs Out" (Yippy Yi Yo)
4. "We Will Rock You" (Wavin’ your banner all over the place….)
5. "Gimme a Break” (Break me off a piece ‘o that Kit Kat bar)
6. "Mission Impossible" theme (the one thing that doesn’t self-destruct in five seconds)
7. "YMCA" (It’s fun to stay at the…)
8. "Whoop, There It Is" (by the immortal Tag Team)
9. "The Lion Sleeps Tonight" (still in your head?)
10. "It's a Small World After All" (It’s a small, small world)
So, see – I was being really merciful this morning giving you Number Eight. Kellaris hasn't yet found a cure. What helps? Kellaris doesn't know. But he found that when people battle their earworms, nearly two-thirds of the time they try to use another tune to dislodge the one that's stuck. About half the time people simply try to distract themselves from hearing the stuck song. More than a third of the time people with songs stuck in their heads try talking with someone about it. And 14% of the time, people try to complete the song in their heads in an effort to get it to end. What do you do?
But here’s the thing: there are bad earworms and there are good earworms. A good earworm is one you’d actually like to have. When I play golf, for instance, I intentionally begin humming Hymn 370. I know, I know, it sounds pious. But it isn’t, really. It’s “I bind unto myself today,” otherwise known as “St. Patrick’s Breastplate.” It has all of the rhythmic, lilting qualities of a drinking song – perfect for a languid 3-iron swing. The best part is, by the end of the round, I’m so sick of the tune that my auditory cortex – the mother ship for generating earworms – totally agrees.
But I digress. I did say that there are such things as good earworms. It’s sort of like programming your brain to remember what’s important. It can be a form of meditation, not unlike the oratorio part of lectio divina, a time-honored Christian contemplative practice. In lectio (or, “holy reading”), you take a short passage from scripture and read it, slowly. Then, when your attention has been “arrested” (that is, when your mind hesitates at a word or phrase), you repeat the word or phrase for several minutes.
You take care not to think at this stage, merely to repeat verbally. Then you take a few minutes of silence to let the word or phrase “wash over” you and wait, receptively, as spiritual insights flood in. It’s a time-honored practice and, in fact, we have a lectio divina group right here at St. Patrick’s that meets every Thursday if you’d like to give it a go.
In our reading from the Acts of the Apostles we have Peter saying a few words on behalf of Jesus to the Gentiles who are accompanying Cornelius, the centurion: “I truly understand that God shows no partiality, but in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him. You know the message he sent to the people of Israel, preaching peace by Jesus Christ – he is Lord of all. That message spread throughout Judea, beginning in Galilee after the baptism that John announced….”
“That message spread throughout Judea….” You might call it an earworm of biblical proportions. Something that spread, word of mouth, like wildfire. People couldn’t help but talk about it. It was in their heads. It was in their auditory cortices.
Today, we celebrate communion as an anamnesis, “a remembrance.” But the easiest way to remember something is to put it to music. Accordingly, many scriptural passages that we receive in prose are actually musical parts of ancient liturgies. They are teachings, put to music. So, today, I’m going to go out on a limb and infect you with a holy earworm (Beethoven). Enjoy it. Take it with you for the rest of the day.
Joyful, joyful, we
God of glory, Lord of love;
hearts unfold like flowers before thee,
opening to the sun above.
Melt the clouds of sin and sadness;
drive the dark of doubt away;
Giver of immortal gladness,
fill us with the light of day!
All thy works with joy surround thee,
earth and heaven reflect thy rays,
stars and angels sing around thee,
center of unbroken praise.
Field and forest, vale and mountain,
flowery meadow, flashing sea,
singing bird and flowing fountain
call us to rejoice in thee.