I am so blessed to have been raised in a family, a faith tradition and an era in which singing praise to the Holy One was as natural and ordinary as brushing my teeth or doing my homework. Every day had our singing in it. My mother put us to bed singing, There is a happy land far, far away…where saints in glory stand, bright, bright as day. At Sunday dinner we shared offering grace by singing a capella in four part harmony, We thank Thee, Lord, for this our food… Every day there were family prayers at which we sang our way through the hymnal, year after year. The best part of the otherwise tedious Sunday morning service was the singing of old hymns from Baptist, Methodist, revival and English cathedral traditions, equally robustly, equally fervently, equally adeptly. And I experienced Grace in the singing.
As I entered Lent this year, I have sought to revisit former places where I have encountered God’s Grace, and surely singing is one of those places. Much of the Mystery that we call God is intimated for me in the songs I sang, and that I still sing. At the beginning of Lent, however, I became aware that much of that “singing” in me is like a silent radio, a songline flowing through my being but never expressed out loud. Any time of the day or night, I can check in with my heart and hear the melody and harmony of the song that is moving to the cadence of my days, but rarely do I let my lungs, my lips or my larynx join to in making that song audible to my own ears or those of others. I too often trust in the recorded music of others to do the praising.
Every time I have occasion to join in song with a gathering of faithful ones, my prayer and my appreciation for the Holy One is amplified in my body. My soul and body cry out for the living God. The journey that I travel with the Spirit begins to have breath, color and deep feeling. I know in my bones why the book of Psalms has been the hymnal of those in Judeo-Christian faith for centuries; they give voice not only to my sighs which are too deep for words, an appropriate exercise in Lent, but they expand my vision of God:
Your steadfast love is better than life: my lips will praise you. (Psalm 63: 3)
When I searched for Love, the Beloved answered within my heart and all my fears flew away. (Psalm 34: 4; Psalms for Praying, Nan Merrill)
El Shaddai build up her people, and gathers the outcasts in. She heals the brokenhearted, gently binding their wounds. (Psalm 147: 2-3; Swallow’s Nest, Marchienne Rienstra)
Singing images of the Holy widens my vision and deepens my trust of the one that Jesus called Abba. I am met in singing by Grace.
My Lenten journey thus far has been to revisit the practices where Grace has found me: the silence and walking the labyrinth. This week I continue with those practices while choosing to use those musical gifts I have been given: a voice, a piano, a memory of hymns past and a new hymnal of songs to learn as part of my Lenten action:
O the deep, deep love of Jesus
You have called us by name, and we are yours.
I am thine, I rest in Thee, O Spirit, come and rest in me.
Veni Sanctus Spiritu
His eye is on the sparrow, and I know He watches me.
God will delight when we are creators of justice…justice and joy!
Augustine has told us that the one who sings, prays twice! After my silence and walking this week, I will be singing, praying twice as I do.