We Beehive gals went to our community monthly Sacred Harp singing today. My, oh my, "glory shone around," as the old hymn goes. Those two euphoric hours of belting out lofty, sacred words to tunes wrought from strange, ancient notations has again left our cheeks flushed, our cells fully oxygenated for at least a day or two hence. Ah me, there's just nothing like tapping toes in the "hollow square." Puts a buzz in the bones, stirs the soul. Needful stuff, that.
Reminds us who we are... who we really are.
I suppose I could write this entire entry on the restorative joys of zoning into a state of flow through a creative pursuit like Sacred Harp singing, but instead I'm preoccupied just now with why people don't sing like they used to.
In times past, whole communities gathered to sing on weekends; neighbors gathered on porches and in parlors in the evenings. I still find peace in childhood memories of the singing faces of loved ones young and old, faces open and free, at least while the songs lasted. (I especially recall the old men with rafter-ringing tenors and boot-thumping basses -- where have they gone?) It was as though singing together suspended a bridge across our generations, where we traversed in a moment of common grace, where we understood one another... where we knew who we were.
We have it in our blood. Englishmen used to break out in song in pubs -- please tell me they do still? -- serenading the moment with nary a care for vocal finery. The Scots had their ceilidhs -- village gatherings where any who came must be willing to contribute in some way to the evening's entertainment, perhaps with a jig or a strathspey on the highland pipes... aye, but 'twas a hearty folk song t'would bring down the house!
A few still heed the ancestral call. Near my home there's a European deli where Germans and Austrians gather to heartily sing their native folk songs over platters of sausage and sauerkraut, and it's some of the jolliest fun to be had in this metropolitan city on a Friday night! And some weekend nights my daughters and I tiptoe past a corner table at our neighborhood Starbucks where a group of North Africans gathers to all but whisper songs from home under the tireless, tiring drone of piped-in pop music.
They sing to remember who they are, just like I do.
Where are your ancestral songs? Sleeping in your head? In your grandfather's grave? Do we wax too dull to sing, too self-aware to be heard outside the shower? Why?
Singing is now something celebrities do for us. We are perhaps the first generation in human history so removed from personal song, so bereft of the knowledge of that zing in the air, the wisdom of the buzz in the bones, the soul a-stir in song. We are comfortably numb, but only because we don't know what we don't know.
It seeps into churches, inevitably. Most likely your grandparents sang enough, congregationally, to wear out the hymnals stashed in their pew. They knew the zing, the buzz, the stir -- knew it as an old personal friend. Will your children? Your grandchildren? Or will they know no better than to accept being passively entertained by the polished few who make the worship team, perhaps mumbling buzzlessly along to a few easy praise songs?
Will you forfeit your song?
And if you do, will your children sing?
Will they know who they really are if they don't sing?
God created our souls to sing! Really sing. May your children know the incarnational joy of singing till their bones buzz and their souls stir.
Conjure up a world where everyone knows the tingly joy that comes from spontaneously joining in song at unplanned moments in family life. What a happy place. Here in the Beehive, one of us will start humming a hymn melody while washing dishes, another will drift in, grab a drying towel and pick up the alto, a third will get magnetically drawn in to add the missing tenor, and next thing you know it's an hour later and we're all on the sofas with the old hymnals out (and the older the better -- nothing written in about a century can vibrate the old marrow like that old dispersed harmony!). Or one of us will start humming in the car and a couple of miles down the road we're practically shattering the windshield.
If the world is to become a singing place again, it must start with families. Here in the Hive, we're letting it rip. Won't you sing with us?
[For the best hymnal I've ever seen, go here.
For a child-friendly selection of traditional folk songs and classic hymns, see www.AmblesideOnline.org.]