Monday, December 08, 2008


Read any psalm, but particularly 146-150

It's undeniable that music is a major force during this season of holiness. Whether it is the annual 'battle' over when a church can begin to sing the beloved carols, or churches bringing in brass or string groups for worship, or choirs of little children being taught how not to fidget and the appropriate use of hands while singing at the family service, music is foundational for the observance of the celebration of the Christ Child.

Yet, do you notice that for most of us, the music comes from someone else, other than ourselves? It is piped in the stores, the elevators, the underground. It is a professional group, or the chancel choir, or the Little Cherubs, who are doing the singing. It is special concerts down at the square, or in the music hall, or on television, or our iPods. But it is not usually us, who are going around singing.

We've lost the art of singing, I'm afraid. There was a time in our past when people were singing all the time. Fathers sang lullabies to their babies, mothers sang 'My Lord, What a Morning" while getting ready for the day. Families sang around the dinner table, or in the family room in the evening. People sang while building bridges, working at a lathe, sweeping the front porch, weeding in the garden, doing laundry, mowing the lawn. Whether it was hymns or a show tune, a psalm or a pop standard, people went around singing. But not any more.

Nearly a century ago, John Philip Sousa remarked, 'What will happen to the American voice now that they've invented the phonograph?' And I can only imagine his reaction to iPods, cell phones that can carry hundreds of songs, everyone walking around with their own headphones, listening to their own music, not noticing all those others flowing down that same street, with their ears filled with their private stock of tunes.

As Pete Seeger is fond of saying, music is full of great power. Yes, it can help us forget our troubles; yes, it can distract us from our troubles. Yes, like the psalms, those marvelous songs that are filled with the wide range of human experiences as well as emotions, music can help us to understand our troubles.

But, Seeger goes on to say, music can help us do something about our troubles. Music can bring us together with folks who are just as broken as we are, and we can draw comfort and strength as we sing 'sometimes I feel like a motherless child.' Music can put us in touch with those who have experienced the same suffering as we have, yet together we can dance to a lively klezmer tune. Music can unite us with those who long for justice and an end to every form of human oppression, and we can lift our voices in 'We Shall Overcome' as we march, and work, and vote.

Maybe this year, we should start singing again. Start out slowly, in the shower or in the car. Hum a tune on the bus or the subway car (and notice if anyone starts humming along with you!) Sing along with Perry, or Toby, or Beyonce, or your favorite group. Turn off the TV and gather around the piano instead. But sing, sing, sing . . .

praising God for the wonderful gift of music, echoing the songs sung on that first morning of the new creation so long ago.

Prayer: Whether with a piano or an old kazoo, whether classical or country, whether solo or with a friend, we would sing to you, Joyous Heart, as we wait to celebrate your coming to us. amen.

(c) 2008 Thom M. Shuman

1 comment:

Natasha said...

I am reading through your advent book now and wanted to thank you for your service to the Lord. I am a little behind, and I was reading about Mirium dancing for God. So yes! Dance and sing. Put the praise inside your own body and then share it. God bless.
In expectation,