Why don’t we sing more?
Music is one of our natural, God-given graces. We begin to sing as a very early age. Mothers and fathers croon to infants. The rhythm of music soothes babies by reminding them of the rhythms of the heartbeat in the womb…. Music connects us to the rhythms of life.
But all too son, somebody – who? Society? – says we should only sing… if our songs are good… if our voices are perfect. We become, those of us not gifted with exceptional voices, self-conscious. This is why so many of us will only sing in the shower. We sound better there and no one else will hear us! We beat down the songs embedded in our souls.
Worse, we come to an acceptance that only “professional” music will do. Radios have replaced work songs in most of the cultures of the world. We have radios in our homes, our cars. At great and important occasions in our lives, we hire people to sing for us. They have beautiful voices! But we cannot sing for ourselves or together, we must hire someone to do it for us.
And in church. Well, there is singing in church, but not much in white protestant churches. This is a shame, because the hymns of the church are a great gift to us, a great resource. For most protestant hymns are a means of prayer and dialogue with the Spirit. They are what icons are to the Orthodox and stained glass windows are to cathedrals in Europe – windows into the soul.
We have big debates now in the church about what to sing, the older style music or the newer style. But mostly music scares us these days in the church. Because through it the Spirit catches hold and moves us, changes us. Enough of that kind of singing and we might be dancing in the aisles.
But dancing in praise of God is throughout the Bible. We read this morning a snippet of the oldest song in the Bible (Exodus 15:20-21), sung by Moses’ sister Miriam after the defeat of Pharaoh’s army. And we read that beautiful song, the Magnificat of Mary. Remember these words from the NT letter of James? “Is any among you afflicted? Let him pray. Is any merry – let him sing!”
But it’s a funny thing. We really don’t celebrate singing in church. In preparation for today I was researching prayers, and I could not find any about music! Listen to this list of titles of prayers for special times in the lives of congregations: Before a budget or business meeting; installation of a pastor; dedication of church doors; prayers for annual meeting…. There were no prayers about music or musicians or singing……..
But music, the urge to praise God through music is so deeply imbedded in us! Joyce Blackburn says “as ancient as our race is the urge to sing, to perform on instruments. Why, who knows how old cymbals may be? This morning here we used a tambourine, a timbral… and timbrals are mentioned in the Song of Miriam…. Music is an expression of the joy we have in living, in the joy we have in faith, in the joy we have in the gifts of God.”
She continues, “let everything that hath breath praise the Lord. Because you are, you can respond! Praise is response, the voluntary response of our total selves or even a part of our selves to the presence and doings of the Lord, Creator, Redeemer, God. Praise is the astonishment we express when touched by His infinity, by His intimacy, by His attention concentrated on each of us. Praise is the silence of awe we feel when we recognize a miracle, the wholeness we feel in the arms of Almighty Love, the freedom we know, once captured, changed, kindled. Let us respond to the One in whom we live and move and have our being. Let us praise the Lord!”
Music is praise, praise in honor of the One who loves and sustains us. We need to sing more!