Tuesday, June 15, 2010

If You Cannot Sing...

In our Sunday morning Bible class we are reviewing the Bible in the Liturgy.  In preparation for the step by step walk through the liturgy, we began with a discussion of singing and music in relation to worship.  Of course, the weight of those passages was decidedly toward the Psalms.  An offhand comment I made provoked some discussion so I thought I might touch upon it here.

While we tend to think of music as reflective of individual, personal taste, music is a gift from God for the purpose of worship and praise of Him who gave us this gift.  God never asks of us that which He has not first given to us and so it is with music.  While music is dominantly secular today, it was not always so.  Perhaps only a few hundred years ago and music was predominantly sacred.  Choral music and music sung by an assembly remains dominantly religious in nature.  There are few places where people gather as a group to sing that do not relate to worship.  So even though we are tempted to believe that music has become predominantly a secular enterprise, we are reminded that we spend most of our time singing, singing in Church.

Now there are those who say that singing is not my thing.  Some will confess (and not falsely) that they do not have a singing voice or the musical ability to carry a tune.  I might go the path of those who say God said "make a joyful noise" and therefore it does not matter how badly you sing or how tone deaf you are, add your noise to the mix and do not be shy.  My experience is that folks who do not sing or cannot sing do not appreciate being told to bellow like a cow and God will be glorified by it all (even though the Christians brothers and sisters around you may be scandalized).

I would suggest something very different.  If you cannot or do not sing, do NOT stand there with your hymnal shut and your eyes looking around.  Open your hymnal, place your eyes upon the text, move your lips, and sing in your heart and mind.  The words and music that you cannot sing, you may speak in your heart and mind and move your lips to testify to this worship of "silent" singing.  It is ridiculous to stand with the book shut and your eyes, heart, and mind wandering around the sanctuary while others sing.  It is selfish to listen to others singing (remember they are not singing for you but to the Lord).  It may not be salutary to join your voice if you cannot sing or your singing may distract from the song itself.  Therefore, move your lips to show you are part of the assembly, read the words in your minds, and sing in your heart with the congregation that it may truly be the song of all that is lifted to the Lord with thanksgiving and joy.

Many years ago a rather blunt and mean spirited Pastor told my Dad not to sing because he sounded like a sick cow.  Let us not continue to promote such foolishness and rudeness in the name of God.  Congregational song is for all the people -- even if some will by necessity sing silently -- not with their voices but joyfully in their hearts.  Hymns are the songs of the Church, the heritage of the faithful who went before us to which we add our own contributions -- the best of today for His glory.  Let them continue to be the song of the Church (and all who are part of that community of faith).  So I refuse to say not to sing but rather to sing in your heart if you cannot sing with your lips but to join us in that song, to move your lips as testament to your place within the great choir of the faithful, and let the Word in that song speak to you and through you and the music support that Word in its flight of praise, thanksgiving, worship, and witness (the great marriage of text and tune).

There is nothing sadder than to survey a people gathered in song only to see some folks standing there as if the congregation were singing for their benefit or they were not a part of this assembly called and gathered by the Spirit.  So do not stand apart but join the community by singing in your heart, reading with your mind, and moving your lips in testament to the words that speak to us the Word and, in turn, speak it to the world in witness.


Christopher Gillespie said...

Conversely, this exercise is very valuable
when attending a church with a different confession. While you may not know the songs, you can learn a great deal about the confession by reading along.

RobbieFish said...

Right on!

My "conversely" is to observe what a drag it can be, for a pastor, to choose the hymns that best confess the article of faith at the center of the day's proclamation, and see someone sitting with the hymnal shut. Especially when that person comes to you after the service and BOASTS that (s)he boycotted the song because it was in terrible taste & not like the old goodies they grew up with in the _____ Church. I've seen it happen!

Rev. Allen Bergstrazer said...

There are many reasons why people don't sing. After a resperatory virus a few years ago I gained an empathy for the senior members of my church who would have liked to sing but didn't have the lungs for it anymore.

We have a situation in our age that wasn't going on 100 and more years ago. When many of our hymns were written, if you wanted music in your home you had to make it yourself. Before recorded music people grew accustomed to singing together as families and communities. Today we are avid listeners, and to the average young person gathering around the family piano to sing a couple of favorites to pass the time seems kinda dumb. Especially when you have better sounding music that is your personal perference at your figertips. What we're asking our members to do in church used to be commonplace, now, unless you're in a school choir or a musician yourself it probably only happens on sunday.

Rev. Allen Yount said...

"Be filled with the Spirit, addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord *with your heart*" (Ephesians 5:18, 19; emphasis added).

I believe that supports your point, Pr Peters.

Rev.Allen Yount
-+-Oratio, Meditatio, Tentatio Faciunt Theologum-+-

Janis Williams said...

Fr. Peters,

I am one of those who moves their mouth, and follows the words with eyes and heart. Not because I can't carry a tune, but because of a vocal chord problem. (Although I confess I sing at times, when either there are only 2 or 3 voices to raise the song, or when there is a hymn I love, and I cannot be silent for the great words.)

It seems to me that those who complain that hymns are "not their preferred musical style" might consider this activity when in the Divine Service. At least they will be catechized in the faith by following along. God does not ask us to check our brains at the door of the sanctuary.

KathyS said...

I LOVE to sing, especially in church. However, we have recently attended a few contemporary worship services. My greatest frustration--and a great offense to me--in these services is that they sing songs I do not know, they give me only words and NO MUSICAL notes to enable me to even attempt to sing along. So, I do as you say and mouth the words. But how is these people expect newcomers to enjoy this music when even life-long church members can't sing along?

Anonymous said...

Thanks for this post. As someone who is tone deaf it does not help to be told to try to sing anyway because it doesn't matter how badly you sing. Your advice is much better.

Myrtle said...

Respectfully, the image you portray of those who are not singing is primarily negative, even selfish, aside from those who are physically incapable of singing.

I would offer there might be another reason. Sometimes the pews are filled with wounded souls, those in such deep anguish, wrestling with sin or pain or confusion. Sometimes we come so that others might pray for us, sing for us because we cannot speak the words, sing the words ourselves.

Is is selfish to seek refuge in the House of God, seek such help from our brothers and sisters, to long for the Word to be poured over us so that we might find the peace and rest that will be our strength against such battles, that will be our true healing?