On Reliquarium: Part Four | Making the Old Paths Anew
Thus says the LORD:
“Stand in the ways and see,
And ask for the old paths, where the good way is,
And walk in it;
Then you will find rest for your souls.
But they said, ‘We will not walk in it.’
Oh, sing to the LORD a new song!
For He has done marvelous things;
His right hand and His holy arm have gained Him the victory.
Then He who sat on the throne said, “Behold, I make all things new.” And He said to me, “Write, for these words are true and faithful.”
Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new.
2 Corinthians 5:17
What are we to make of these seemingly contradictory passages of Scripture? After all, it is the same Holy Spirit of God we are told Who superintended and inspired the recording of these verses as God’s Word (as we’re taught in 2 Timothy 3:16 and 2 Peter 1: 20-21), and, this being so, how can these statements/commands be at odds, since they share the same ultimate Origin?
How are we to retrieve the “old paths, where the good way is,” when there seems to be a premium put upon the new (“song,” “all things,” “creation”), especially if “old things have passed away” and “all things have become new,” as we are straightforwardly told? If “all things have become new” at the Hands of the One on the throne Who is making “all things new,” why are we commanded to “ask for the old paths… and walk in it”? If newness is the goal, why are the “old paths” where the “good way is” wherein we “will find rest for our souls”?
Is there an answer to this seeming conundrum? Well, yes, there is. We should first realize that the Hebrew word for old in “the old ways” in Jeremiah 6:16 doesn’t exactly mean what we think of when we use the word “old” today. While it does indeed carry a connotation of great age, the word (Hebrew ‘olam, for you lingually curious types) actually refers to something eternal, everlasting, and perpetual, and, even beyond this, the linguistic root of ‘olam means “concealed” or “hidden.”
The old ways we are to seek and walk in must be sought not only because we have lost those ways (though we have), but also because they are, to our inattentive and darkened attention, not obvious to us. They are, as the word implies, hidden, and, once lost sight of, must be sought to be regained. (Such a quest is generally driven by the realization that the seekers are not experiencing “rest” for their souls…).
However, even if lost sight of, and not obvious to us, those “old paths” are, in fact, perpetual and everlasting, and, though not always easy to see, can be found, if they are sought. A seeker of those paths can find others who still know and walk on them, which is why seekers are told to “stand in the ways and see, and ask for the old paths, where the good way is.” Others are still walking on the everlasting paths, and they can be questioned and emulated, greatly facilitating the finding of rest for one’s soul.
These paths provide rest for the soul precisely because they are eternal and everlasting, proceeding from eternity past into eternity future, paths that run through the center of God’s Purposes and Plans. As such, they are the mainsprings and formative paradigms of history and human meaning, carrying the driving force of the Presence of God into our experience. For humans made in God’s Image, it is imperative that we find and walk those pathways.
Since they shape our history (as a race and as individuals), these paths carry us forward towards the fulfillment of our intended future, shedding and forming our knowledge and experience of God across time, in the process we normally think of as tradition.
The nature (and the point) of tradition is to carry forward that knowledge and experience of God into our future, as time moves toward its destined end, its Divinely-Ordained goal, its apotheosis in Christ. In point of fact, this action of carrying forward into the future the knowledge and experience of God is precisely what makes “all things new,” as the Gospel by the Power of God’s Spirit changes men, redeems culture, and forms new layers of tradition as it moves onward into history.
To walk in those ancient, eternal paths is to experience Christ’s making all things new, to become a new creation, and to be able to sing a new song as we see the marvelous things He is doing and (importantly) has done. This is the core of the nature of Christian tradition, that, informed by what God has done in the past, we see and effect current, new change. We must have both the ancient and the new, or it ceases to be tradition, and we depart from the “old paths,” either become ossified idolaters of the past or frenzied worshippers of the new, rather than worshippers of the One Who is the “Alpha and Omega, the Beginning and the End, the First and the Last” simultaneously (Revelation 22:13).
To walk the old paths is to become new and be enabled to sing a new song of both what God has done and what He is doing (and will do).
Why am I taking up this question in a relicommunique concerning the Reliquarium project? I do so to help explain the goal of this project (and virtually all of my musical work to date): I seek to take the past musical treasures of the Church and render them in contemporary ways that make them accessible and attractive to the present generation.
I am attempting to walk the old paths that make all things new in Christ, and sing a new song (or, at least, an old song in a new way). We must be people who walk the old paths, so that those who seek rest for their souls can be made anew.