To quote one of my favorite hymns, “How Can I Keep from Singing?” Church leaders all around our country are reeling from this news about the dangers of congregational singing during this season of a global pandemic. Who are we if we are not singing together? Hymns are such a part of our congregational life that this new reality, no matter how temporary it is, is nearly impossible to imagine. Note that even the title of this column comes from a hymn (“God of Grace and God of Glory”).
We are a singing people! Who are we if we are not singing together? As one raised by this church, hymns are an integral part of my life. When I lived away from Highland for a year, I wrote about how I grieved the loss of hymns (https://pausegivethanks.com/2016/09/23/the-hymnal-that-holds-us-together/#more-3208). I started the tradition of singing my way through the hymnal with our boys so that they didn’t forget hymns.
In all honesty, I confess that I can be pretty stubborn. Drew could easily give you some examples of the times when I persist when all reason says I should fold. While there are obvious downsides to this personality trait, there are some perks.
Stubbornness can be my faith’s greatest asset. So I write here, in stubborn faith, that I refuse to give up singing. I refuse to say that singing is cancelled. I do not mean that we should defy the CDC’s recommendation to avoid singing as a group. Far from it.
Yes, congregational singing cannot happen side-by-side in pews for this season, but congregational singing can happen all across our city and world as we sing from home. With our virtual service on your computer, phone, or television, I hope that you are singing along in full volume.
I encourage all families to go ahead and forgive each other for your musical imperfections. May your roommates or pets give you permission to sing in full-voice even when it is off-key. Our congregational singing is not about getting every note right. Our dispersed-around-the-city congregational singing is about raising our voices to God. We sing at full-voice because people of faith have always sought to “shout to God with loud songs of joy” (Psalm 47:1).
So sing in full voice, dear Highland. You may feel foolish, but I trust that whenever living in stubborn faith appears foolish, we might just be standing on sacred ground (see all of 1 Corinthians).
Today, I cling stubbornly to hymns even more than I did before. They continue to help me believe on the days when I struggle to believe on my own. This week, take some time to look up “How Can I Keep from Singing?” and enjoy the beautiful melody and powerful verses. Find Bruce Springsteen’s version and play it at full volume.
“Through all the tumult and the strife, I hear the music ringing,
it finds an echo in my soul—how can I keep from singing?