I did a lengthy 6 month study on songs in the night. If you want to hear more about it, be sure you are on my email list. Here is one of the stories that I cam across during my study:
There is a fascinating story about one of the most famous songs in the night that came out of the mid-seventh century. Saint Bede, a monk and the one known as, “The Father of English History,” tells us about a man named Caedmon at a later date known as Saint Caedmon. Caedmon was a shepherd or herdsman on a piece of land that sat between and belonged to two monasteries (one for men and one for women) known as Whitby Abby along the hills and carved out cliffs of England’s Northern Sea. The abbey was built by Saint Hilda whom Bede describes as a skilled teacher and administrator, full of life and zeal.
Caedmon was already well into his later years. The story goes that the monkswould often have party or feasts in the evening to have fellowship and a celebrate various occasions It was common for there to be a lot of singing at these feasts. Even though Caedmon was simply a stable hand and not a monk, he was often invited and present. The monks would take turns singing songs as the harp was passed around, each monk taking his turn to sing a song.
Caedmon would watch as the harp was passed along and the monks would sing the songs effortlessly with zeal and joy. Caedmon
however, would not be so joyful. He was an illiterate stablehand that did not know how to sing. It’s not that he could not carry a tune, but he knew no verses, he knew no songs, he did not know the proper prose in which to recite the songs and he felt inadequate in the midst of the other skilled monks. When Caedmon saw the harp being passed around, this was his cue to leave the party, he was embarrassed and ashamed that he could not participate in something that seemingly brought so much joy to everyone else. Surely it was very disheartening to leave during such a joyous celebration because of lack of ability.
However, there was one evening that ended a little differently. Of course, it started all the same; the monks were all having a good time fellowshipping with each other, enjoying the meal, and then it came time to start the songs. Caedmon’s his heart sank. Someone picked up that harp and started singing, then proceeded to pass it around. Caedmon then slipped out quietly, avoiding embarrassment as he usually would. He made his way to the barn to check on the animals (which was in his mind was a good excuse for leaving the feast), he managed to get a little too comfortable and drifted off asleep in the stables.
While sleeping, a man appeared to him in a dream. While history does not tell us who this man was, I would venture to say that it was Jesus. The man calls him by name and says, ‘Caedmon, sing me a song.’ Caedmon then replies, ‘I do not know how to sing. That is why I am here and left the feast because I do not know how to sing.’ The man says it a bit stronger now, ‘Nevertheless, sing me a song!’ Caedmon now a little fearful realizes that he’s not going to win this argument then concedes, ‘what should I sing?’ The man commands, ‘Sing to me about the creation of all things.’ Then in Caedmon’s dream, he begins to sing a song that he has never heard before, and in fact, no one has ever heard it before. It came out of nowhere as he opened his mouth to give utterance to the man’s command to sing!Caedmon then awakens from his dream sprawled out in the smelly barn surrounded by animals, but something is different. This was no ordinary dream, Caedmon remembers everything! He is able to sing the song perfectly from the dream, the words and melodies have not left him. He then finds that he has the ability to add more to the song, so he begins to sing more words and remembers those as well. Not only is he now singing and composing songs, he seems to have the incredible ability to not forget them as he sings them. Caedmon is overwhelmed by this gift he receives in the night and he goes to the alderman (his boss) and tells him about what happened to him. The alderman was astounded and immediately sends Caedmon to the abbey to recite the songs and tell his story to Hilda (the bosses boss). Hilda was also astounded of what was given by God to this lowly shepherd. Hilda calls in a bunch of elders, scholars, and teachers then asked Caedmon to sing the song again and to tell them what happened in that night. The anointing that poured forth from the songs of Caedmon has them all completely convinced that it was given a gift from God in the night.
Now they need to make a decision on what to do with the gift. How are they to move forward with a stablehand who was already well into his years? Can he write more of these songs? Is there more to this gift than one song in the night? Perhaps a test is in order. They tell Caedmon, “go write more songs and then come back”. Caedmon goes to his home and with little effort continues right where he left off, he starts creating more verses to the songs.
Caedmon returns to the abbey to recite his new songs. Again astounded, those that heard his songs reiterated that he was given a gift from God. Caedmon keeps writing new songs and sharing them with those in the Abby. Hilda became a big fan of Caedmon’s songs, it was not only a gift given to Caedmon but to the whole abbey and Hilda wanted to see Caedmon flourish in what God has given him. Hilda exhorts Caedmon to leave behind his life as a stablehand, living and working for himself, and step into the service of God by joining the order of monks.
Caedmon humbly accepts the assignment and Hilda directs Caedmon into the hands of the monks. The monks were given orders that he be taught the scriptures and the things of God. Caedmon had a profound ability to retain all this information and write it on the tablet of his heart by turning scripture into song. His songs became profoundly important, so much so that Caedmon’s songs ended up becoming some of the regular hymns sung by all the monks of the abbey. Many learned the scriptures, stories, and theology through the songs of Caedmon.
When Caedmon had received his dream, he was instructed to sing about the creation of all things, the beginning. This was where God wanted him to start, the songs that came after covered scripture from front to back. He sang about Moses, the mercy of Christ and His suffering on the cross, the defending of the Holy Spirit, God’s return and judgment of the earth found in Revelation and about the eternal glory of the heavenly city.
Caedmon was known to continue in the service of God. The lifestyle he chose: serving God, learning the Word and writing songs, gave him a burning desire to see the laymen turn from their sin and come into the knowledge of God. God used a lowly herdsman, gave him a song in the night, which is now known as the oldest surviving piece of English literature.
Have you had or heard of any similar experiences to Caedmon?
Adapted from Bede’s translated Account of Caedmon’s Hymn