Some will think me strange, but I listen to hymns all day long (at least as much as I can all day long). The staff who work with me in the office are not always so supportive of my hymn habit. Often they close the door to my office, if it is left open. But it has not deterred me. I have a 31 year old Pioneer amp, a 6 cd player (that is wearing out), four large old speakers, and hundreds of cds of church music -- mostly choral anthems and hymns. And I love it.
These hymns are one reason I am a Christian. They keep me tuned into the faith even when I am distracted, they build in my memory a library of Christian classics, and they invite my soul to sing and praise (even when I am not in the mood). I listen to the hymns of Luther in a very fine collection from CPH and to a multi-cd collection of English hymns. I listen to choirs of Valpo, the National Lutheran Choir, the choirs of Gustavus, the choirs of Lutheran Summer Music... and their songs shape my faith and hope and ground my piety within the astonishingly rich tradition passed down to us along with the best of contemporary composers and hymn writers.
I wish that more folks in the pew listened to hymns and choral music of the Church. I am not against the pop-gospel music that is featured on most Christian radio stations but I do not find it has the depth of the great hymns of old and new. Nor is this music singable the way the hymns are. I find myself breaking out into the words... in my office, in my car, and while distributing the Sacrament at the Altar... even without a hymnal in my hands, the words and music have formed a deposit of the faith that links my mind, heart, lips, and soul.
It is not for beauty that I listen -- though they are beautiful. It is not for music appreciation that I listen -- though there is much to appreciate. I listen because hymns give voice to the faith in a deeply and profoundly moving way. If I had the money, I would buy some of these collections and require everyone in the parish to listen regularly. Like the ancient past when families gathered around a piano to sing the hymns of the hymnal, this is a discipline of the heart that strengthens and supports our faith through the dark and difficult struggles of life. It fosters community and builds Christian identity as well.
So listen.... listen to the great musical voice of the Church... listen and sing... in the shower, in the car driving down the road... listen and sing and see if your faith is not encouraged and strengthened by this most salutary gift of music in service to the Lord and His Word...