“My life flows on in endless song; above earth’s lamentation, I catch the sweet though far-off hymn that hails a new creation.” -ELW 763
One of the many beautiful places that I have encountered in my life is a waterfall in Matthiesson State Park near Utica, IL. It’s not the most impressive waterfall by any means but the bowl that was created at the foot of these falls is spectacular. At the very bottom is a natural “band shell” type structure with some of the best acoustics I have experienced. When I felt that space, I couldn’t help but sing.
There was an interesting conversation recently on Facebook about singing in church. It is the experience of some that fewer and fewer are singing in worship. The first reaction is to ask, “What is wrong with church?” As I have been reflecting on this, I think the problem is more of a societal shift that became clearer to me when I recently attended the Prefontaine Classic. The announcer said that, “the National Anthem would now be performed by (I can’t remember her name but she did a great job.)” As she sang, the stadium was silent except for one guy who was humming the bass line (that was me). Could this be what is wrong with singing in church?
When my kids were small and I made the time to attend choir practice, my kids would often sleep on my chest as I learned the bass part of the songs that we were learning. I wondered then if my kids would actually learn harmony. Would they be able to feel a bass line in their body as I sometimes do? Or is harmony being lost because we don’t hear it enough? I wonder now about music in general. Do we leave more and more of the singing to the professionals and if we don’t think we can sing do we simply sit silent?
Psalm 100 begins, “Make a joyful noise to the Lord, all you lands!” When someone says to me that they can’t sing or they are a bad singer I quote this Psalm. “It says make a joyful noise to the Lord, it doesn’t say anything about it being a good noise,” I say. For me, singing is spiritual. If you have ever heard a choir sing in a magnificent space where however many voices seem to be multiplied by ten because of “the overtone series” and you experience notes above and below what is humanly possible; the moment becomes transcendent and I believe a sure sign that the Holy Spirit is present.
I have learned a lot about singing in a year and a half at Bethesda! I love that Maxine picks hymns that allow me to sing the bass line that is so familiar to me. I love that Tommy picks songs that have exposed me to a new genre of music. Some songs allow me to seek out that elusive bass part and others allow me to sing the melody loud and strong and all the music that I get to sing on a Sunday morning is good for my soul.
I don’t have a simple answer for why it seems that more and more I choose not to sing. Here’s why I sing: I sing loud and strong utilizing the gift that God gave me for the days that I can’t sing. These days don’t come often but when they do I need the community of believers to sing around me. I need to know that the song continues even if I cannot put my breath behind. What I have learned about these days is that no matter what is going on inside of me that is keeping me from singing, the voices lifted up together around me is good for my soul. I can’t motivate you to sing but know that I need your voice, I need your joyful noise, when I cannot sing on my own. And, it’s not just me because your brothers and sisters in Christ need your voice, too.