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1 Peter 2:2-10

Easter 5, May 10, 2020

St. Martin


“How can I keep from singing?”


My life flows on in endless song, above earth’s lamentation.

I hear the read through far-off hymn that hails a new creation.

No storm can shake my inmost calm, while to that Rock I’m clinging.

Since Love is lord of heaven and earth, how can I keep from singing?


Through all the tumult and the strife, I hear that music ringing;

It sounds and echoes in my soul, how can I keep from singing?


The peace of Christ makes fresh my heart, a fountain ever springing.

All things are mine since I am his: how can I keep from singing?

-       Canadian Common Praise hymn #401, Text Robert Lowry

I miss singing. My vocal chords miss singing too.  I didn’t realize how rusty my voice was getting until I got together with the parish musician to record the Sunday service.  Up to now, the Church has given me plenty of opportunities to proclaim through music in the congregation.  At home, I could warble in the shower or along with the radio or a recording while my family was out of the house.  But right now our church buildings are empty, our choirs cannot meet in person, and my home (at least) has three other people sharing airspace.  And although I love singing with other people, it helps if we all agree on what we want to sing and when.  That’s not so much the case with my nearest and dearest. 

So when I opened my mouth for the psalm, a croak came out!  Like any other instrument, warm-up and practice are apparently important.  (My daughter in opera knows better, of course, and the church organist is too kind to mention it).  I realized that as I pay attention to my physical and emotional and spiritual health during the current restrictions, I also need to pay attention to finding ways to sing.

I am hearing others say that they miss singing together in person.  Members of choirs, certainly.  Practices are equal parts joy of the music itself and delight in each other’s company.  Learning together, laughing together, having the courage to make mistakes and try again.  And as the piece comes together, finding the blend and the balance that lifts the words and notes from the page and makes them into a offering on high.  When it comes time to share the music with others, whether it is performance or as part of a worship service, singing is proclamation.  We are telling a sacred story.  We are inviting others into the experience of being called out of darkness into the marvellous light.  Choral singing brings healing in its wings.

It is not how well we hit the notes, or whether we stay in tune with our neighbours.  When we sing, our whole body is engaged in the act.  It is a spiritual exercise.  What we sing shapes who we are as people of faith.  It is not just the words, although singing them helps them grow deep within us in a way that is different than reading them on a page.  The resonance of the music, the taking in and releasing of breath, is the Holy Spirit alive within us.  And it wakes us up to a depth of emotion and yearning that can bring tears to our eyes and a smile to our lips, even when we do not know why.  In our acts of worship, we are all part of a heavenly choir.  In the 1st letter of Peter, the writer names us as “a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s own people, in order that you may proclaim the mighty acts of Him who called you out of darkness and into His marvellous light.”  How can we keep from singing?

I am sad that we are considering whether it is safe to sing together at all out of concern for the spread of respiratory disease.  The purpose of social distancing is to keep us out of range of sharing this current beast of a virus.   We know we will have to continue to rearrange our lives, and our gatherings, to keep ourselves and others healthy.  We are working right now on what changes have to be in place before in-person worship can resume.  When a firm plan is approved by Church and health authorities we can decided whether to turn up again at the doors of St. Martin’s on a Sunday morning.  We will probably be sitting apart except for household groups, and observing a no-touching policy.  I can keep my hands to myself- and I’m sure you can!  But what do we do with our voices?

I don’t know how we will do this together yet.  It is possible to still sing through a mask, even if the words sound mumbled.  Or we could hum.  We could let a few people carry our song for us, even if the rest of us have to sing in our hearts rather than out loud.  But what I do know is that it is time to get back to practising. 

Warn the other people in your household, if you must.  Or stand on the balcony.  Or go for a walk.  Start with a bit of a warm-up.  Make funny noises.  Search your memory for something you know well and try it out.  If you have a hymnbook at home, open it up and sing one as part of your daily prayer.  Or crank up the radio or the iPod or Spotify and sing along.  Who’s going to stop you?  On Sunday mornings there’s a hymn at the end of our service- go for it while there is no one else around! 

And if you are really feeling intrepid, sing to someone else.  Maybe there’s a grandmother or a grandchild who would love to hear your voice over the phone crooning a familiar melody.  Do you remember the days when you were younger and someone sang to you, or you hushed a restless baby with a lullaby?  It didn’t matter how well you sang:  what that individual heard was your love for him or her.  When you are brave enough to let that love loose in music, it can change the world.  This really is sharing the gospel. 

The world needs our song.  No matter how we manage it.  How can we keep from singing?