31 Maple Street
Bristol, Connecticut USA
July 31, 2016
Psalm 46 & 91
Rev. Kristen J. Kleiman
The sight of her made me smile. There she was, in the car in front of me, just rocking out and singing along with a favorite song. I couldn’t hear a word she sang, as we were stopped at the traffic light, but I knew exactly what she was doing – because I do it too. Every time I hear this certain song, Jack and I turn it up and dance and sing really loud. Okay, I do it even when Jack’s not in the car.
But lots of people sing in their cars. It’s socially acceptable, but if I were to walk around the library or grocery store singing ‘Ring around a rosey..” well, people would certainly give me looks and definitely question my sanity. But I can tell you from recent experience, that no one looks twice at a 3 year old walking around in public singing.
Have you ever noticed how much kids sing? How many places kids sing? This past week, we had friends over for dinner, and their four year old spontaneously broke out in a camp song at the dinner table. It was awesome – or at least I thought so.
When we were kids, we sang everywhere too, but slowly, we learned not to sing at the dinner table, not to sing at the library, not to sing at the grocery store, not to sing in public, until our “acceptable” singing zone was reduced to worship, community choirs, birthday parties, the car, and of course, the shower.
In his book, The Singing Thing: a Case for Congregational Song, pastor and musician John Bell shares his thoughts about why we don’t sing. In addition to having limits placed on all the places we are allowed to sing, too many of us had someone tell us we couldn’t or shouldn’t sing.
And with each “don’t sing here”, with each joke about our ability to carry a tune, our comfort level with singing gets smaller and smaller until it becomes non-existent for too many people, and they just stop singing.
But everyone can sing, and everyone should sing.
We should sing because singing is good for our bodies. Singing improves your immune system; it gives your lungs and circulatory system a workout; it can help you sleep better because strong throat muscles stop snoring and sleep apnea; And singing is also a natural anti-depressant and stress reliever because singing releases endorphins, making you happier and more relaxed.
Just like in yoga, the deep breathing that naturally goes along with singing is physically beneficial, because it helps us to let go of tension.
So we should sing because it is good for our bodies, and we should sing because singing is an important part of our faith. The Rev. Dr. Carl Schultz of First Church in Glastonbury used to say we are people of two books: The Bible and the hymnal. For many congregations, our pew hymnals wear out much faster than our pew Bibles.
Singing is more than a nice part of our Christian faith; it is an essential part. Did you know that the “Bible contains over 400 references to singing and 50 direct commands to sing”? (Bob Kauflin, worship leader and blogger “What happens when we sing in worship?”)
Four hundred references to singing and fifty direct commands to sing. That’s a pretty strong message.
Martin Luther, the great Reformer, said, “He who sings, prays twice.” And John Bell, whose book I already mentioned, explained that he became a hymn writer in addition to a pastor because, “people often forget what they hear preached, they remember what they sing.”
People often forget what they hear preached, but they remember what they sing.
For a preacher it is sadly true, but it has nothing to do with how good the preacher or preaching is. It has everything to do with how our brains work. When we speak, we use the left side of our brains. When we sing, we use the right side.
And there is something about the right side of our brains that is able to store more information. Bob Kauflin, a worship leader and blogger writes, “We store literally hundreds, even thousands of songs in our memory vaults. Music has an unusual mnemonic power. We remember patterns in music much better than patterns in words alone. Rhyme, meter and song are the most powerful mnemonic devices.” (Bob Kauflin, worship leader and blogger “What happens when we sing in worship?”)
We know exactly what he is talking about. As children, we learned the alphabet by singing it. I had seminary classmates that set church history to song so they could better recall it. We are able to remember hundreds and thousands of songs.
So John Bell is right that we remember better what we sing, and he is also right that “what we sing shapes what we believe.” We learn our faith; we grow in faith by singing it.
John Wesley, the founder of the United Methodist Church, and his brother Charles knew that, which is why they used hymns in addition to preaching to spread the good news about Jesus. Charles alone wrote almost 9,000 hymns. Familiar ones like “O for a Thousand Tongues to Sing”, “Hark! the Herald Angels Sing”, and “Christ, the Lord is Risen Today”. They are tunes we know by heart, and with the tunes, the words become imprinted on our souls, reminding us that Christ the Lord is Risen today; that love’s redeeming work is done; and soar we now where Christ has led, following our exalted head, made like him, like him we rise, ours the cross, the grave, the skies.
We remember better what we sing, and singing shapes what we believe.
Martin Luther certainly believed that when he took the words of the 46th psalm and wrote “A Mighty Fortress is Our God”. Look again some time at your favorite hymns and pay attention to the words, what they teach us about our Christian faith, how they are a part of your Christian faith.
It is important that we sing our faith because then it becomes a part of us, knit into the very fabric of our being, as close as our own breath, accessible when we need it most.
This past June, when we lost three treasured members of our congregation in such a short amount of time, I confess that the words to How Great Thou Art, ran almost on a loop inside my head, bringing me comfort, helping me continue to trust in God, as I walked with these families through this dark time of grief.
And when the doctor told me that my cancer was gone, “To God be the glory, great things God has done” were the words of praise that instantly sprang to mind.
God’s Word as found in scripture is so important. It is important that we know that “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.” (Psalm 46:1) It is important for us to know that though the entire world should shake and seem to fall apart that we have no reason to fear for God is with us.
It is good news to hear that we live in the shelter of the Most High, we abide in the shadow of the Almighty. God is our refuge and fortress. In God, we can trust. (Psalm 91).
It is important to hear those words, but when we sing them, ”You who dwell in the shelter of the Lord, who abide in God’s shadow for life, say to the Lord: “My refuge, my rock in whom I trust.” Then the belief goes deeper. The song becomes a part of us forever. Our minds, our hearts, our souls are shaped by the good news of God’s love in powerful ways that the spoken word cannot.
So sing a joyful noise to the Lord because it is good for your body; sing because it is scientifically proven to make you happier and healthier. Sing because it is the best way to remember that ‘Jesus loves you, this I know’. Sing because even in times of trial, even surrounded by great evils, even when life looks darkest, we have no need to fear. God is with us. God is always with us.
And when we know how much God loves us “how can we keep from singing”?