What do you mean, we may not sing? When I first read the recommendation that churches refrain from singing, I thought, sure, ok, better to be safe. And then it slowly began to sink in. No singing. Not just no singing the first week, the first month, we’re back, but probably something like no singing until every person in our church has had the shot to prevent Covid. And that’s not going to be this summer. No singing.
Everyone has that edge they stumble on. No singing seems to be mine. Yesterday I wrote about how challenging this is when we focus on what will happen “then”, and lose all sense of the value of the day. What do you mean, we won’t open for “Rally Day”? or what about the big July 4th celebration? Over here in Rhode Island, this was to be the last season for the PawSox before they move to Worcester (and become the WooSox? Ick) and now how will we say goodby to them and to McCoy Field? For many of us, it’s these less important things that help us cope with the harder ones: my 99 year old cousin Thelma died last week; we know there’ll be a graveside service, but when? And in the meantime, her son has to empty her home alone because his sister is quarantined 200 miles away.
Singing helps us cope will all the losses we’re experiencing every day. And now there’s to be no singing in church. The good news is that church isn’t the only way we can sing our faith out. So, I thought I’d share a few of my favorite faith songs with you today. I play some of these most days. They’re the background to my prayer time, the accompaniment of many of my drives over to Wareham.
My mother loved to sing, and she taught me to love “In the Garden” and “The Holy City”. It’s really hard to find a good recording of the latter – too often the recording skips a verse, and leaves out part of the story. Like “In The Garden”, “The Holy City” is a story song; it makes the best sense when we sing all of the verses.
Some of them, like the Bach chorale “Alleluia, O Praise the Lord Most Holy” or Stainer’s “For God So Loved the World”, are anthems I learned when I sang in the choir at Grace UCC in Rutland, Vermont. I learned the hymn “Holy, Holy, Holy” during a year-long sojourn in a Presbyterian church in New Jersey; my mother didn’t like the church, so then we went back to the Quaker Meeting in Rancocas, NJ, where singing only took place in First-day School. It was easy to persuade the pianist to play “Angels We Have Heard on High” in July. I loved the “glo—o—o—ria” refrain!
Some of the faith music I love is 70s folkie stuff – “One Bread, One Body” or “Here I Am, Lord” by the St. Louis Jesuits, or “For Those Tears I Died” by Marsha Stevens. I learned to love country music when I was stationed in the Carolinas in the Marines – so I listen to Roy Acuff’s “I Saw the Light” with joy. If, like me, you watched the movie “O Brother Where Art Thou?”, you heard Alison Kraus’ version of “Down to the River to Pray.” It’s a wonderful song to sing. Doyle Lawson and Quicksilver do marvelous close harmony on old songs like “Prayer is a Wonderful Gift from God”.
You can see that I love a wide variety of sacred music. From old-timey gospel, to English church music like Thomas Tallis’ “If Ye Love Me”, to Rachmaninoff’s Vespers, to the recent “The Word Was God” sung by the Minnesota Boychoir. Recently, I’ve been listening to the Oasis Chorale.
I could go on and on….there are songs and there are singers, to name and admire. I’ve not even mentioned the power of organ music or other instrumental music. But time, space, and your patience….
What do you listen to? Do you have favorite songs, hymns or pieces of music? What place does music have in your faith life?
We are a singing people, whether or not it is safe to sing in worship. It is through song that we remind ourselves of God’s constant presence in our lives. The words stick in our hearts to lead us in the faithful way. If we cannot sing together, we can still sing separately – and even if you don’t think of yourself as a singer, listen to the music and let it speak to your heart.
For today, check this song out. It’s Ysaye Barnwell’s “Wanting Memories”, sung by the acapella group “Cantus”. Let it lift your hearts today.
Easter blessings, Pastor Virginia