I love to sing. Loudly. (Last night, at choir practice, I think someone actually moved away from me, to preserve their hearing.) I’m not very good, but singing has always been important to me.
Of course, being a PK/MK and always at church–always, always at church–Hymns were the earliest music I learned. And, the once-a-month Sunday night “Pick Your Favorite Hymn” night was my favorite. Not only could I wear polyester slacks or–on the crazy rare occasion–jeans that night to church, which was preferable to a dress for so many, many, many different reasons, but I also was pretty much guaranteed to get the chance to sing my favorite hymns. Loudly.
- Victory in Jesus “He plunged me, to VIIIICTORY….” (This song is best sung with a healthy dose of twang)
- Footprints of Jesus (that make the pathway glow….so, how does that work, exactly? Someone explain it to me, ’cause I imagine Jesus stepping in a vat of glow-in-the-dark paint and stomping around making awesome footprints)
- Shall We Gather at the River (the beautiful, the beautiful)
- Since Jesus Came Into My Heart (Extra points if whoever got assigned (stuck) leading worship that night held out the words “Siiiinnnccee” and “Rollllllllllll” for a couple of extra measures.)
- Wonderful Grace of Jesus (Now, this was just fun to sing)
- There is a Balm in Gilead (And this one was just fun to giggle at. Poor Gilead got blown up by the bomb, repeatedly)
Early on, I somehow figured out how to sing harmony to the hymns. I’m not exactly sure when or how that started. I don’t remember anyone every really teaching me how, it just sort of happened. And when I started taking piano lessons (O, Alicia and Joy, if you happen to read this, how did your poor mother put up with all of us?) and learned about chords, it gave me a name or structure to what I was singing. Before that, I just sang what I thought sounded good, notes that seemed to “fit” the note that everyone else was singing. (though I’m quite certain that many times, it did not. Sound good that is. Loud, always, though. Loudly wrong, I’m sure.)
Part of what I liked, in singing different notes from everyone else, was exactly that–I thought singing what everyone else was singing was boring. I thought it sounded prettier if there were different notes mixed in. I wanted to be different. A little bit of rebellion, I suppose. (Not really, I wanted everyone’s approval far too much to be rebellious. Then. When I was young. However, I certainly made up for that, in the years that followed.)
Fast forward far more years than I care to admit. Much life has happened. I have gone from trying so hard to please God–to make Him “happy” with me, as a young girl, to dissolving in rebellious confidence that He couldn’t possibly exist, to discovery of authors that think like I think, and a discovery of hope, too, and eventually an earnest, though sometimes-wobbling, faith that He is who scripture says He is.
And, kind of like how my–relationship to? belief of? faith in?–God has changed, so has my connection to hymns.
Before, they were fun to sing. Now, many of them, are so precious to me.
Some I now recognize as consisting of bad theology. But many are so solid, so foundational. So scriptural. Truth.
- Be Thou My Vision
- When I Survey the Wondrous Cross
- Hallelujah, What a Savior
- Blessed Redeemer
- Arise My Soul, Arise
- All I Have is Christ
And so many others.
One morning this past week, friends from my church pulled into my driveway. They brought me a gift worth more than gold to me—a box full of musty, old books. (A thousand thank-you’s, Tim and Kay!) Goodness, what a priceless gift. I couldn’t believe it. Such a gift. Most were hymn books, published in the late 1800s. (The picture above is just a small sample of what they gifted me with.) Small, little volumes with tiny notes and tiny print, that I imagine were held by hundreds of hands.
And now, here I am, 141 years later, holding these treasures in my hands. And marveling at the words on the pages.
Some hymns make me chuckle. Like the one “Sung by the congregation, to the pastor, to welcome him back home to his congregation after he has sojourned.” And, my favorite: “Ask Me Not to Sip the Wine” (Oh ask me not to sip the wine, the sparkling ruby wine, In ev’ry drop a serpent lurks, to sting the trusting heart, And lure it from all love-ly things For ev-er-more to part.) Hmm. But, still. Very funny.
Some hymns, though, penetrate both my mind and soul a bit.
“Praise, my soul, the God that sought thee,
Wretched wanderer, far astray;
“Found thee lost and kindly brought thee
From the paths of death away;”
And so many others.
I imagine folks sitting in old, clapboard churches, fanning themselves because no air conditioning of course. Little ones nodding off drowsily. Mischievious ones plotting their after-church exploits. Mom’s pinching the mischievious ones for not paying attention. And, everyone singing. Loudly.
In four-part harmony.
I think it is the harmony that gets me. The words, always and yes. The longest collection of words in scripture are honest words and prayers put to music. I love that. I cherish words.
But, I also cherish harmony.
Singing harmony is kind of like saying to God: God, I know scripture is truth. And I know these words I’m singing are truth. God, I know that you are God. You have to be. Please be. Please. More than tradition. Be real. Make this mess that I have made of my life, not so discordant.
And, when we sing harmony, there is truth in doing so, that John Piper describes as this:
When we all sing the same melody line, it is called unison, which means “one sound.” But when we unite diverse lines of soprano and alto and tenor and bass, we call it harmony; and everyone who has an ear to hear knows that something deeper in us is touched differently by great harmony than by mere unison. (Piper)
There is beauty in the unity that comes from “one sound”, or unison. But there is a richness in the uniting of “diverse lines”, that points to something deeper, something beyond the melody, to the richness and fullness found in the one to whom the words point us to.
A rebellion that says “You are more than one-dimensional. You are more than tradition. You are God. You are real. You are real. And You we worship.”
……be filled with the Spirit, 19 addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart, 20 giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ….