Monday, June 22, 2015

H is for HYMN

         When you’ve been a church goer for many decades, you tend to have a lot of hymns stored in your memory—at least I do—which can resurface at unlikely times after lying dormant. 

This past week my husband acquired a new car, trading in my historic Kia Rio, affectionately called the Lima Bean by some, and a few less appropriate names by others.
However, my husband forgot to bring the Kia’s title along, so he had to mail it to the dealer the next day. This incident sent a message to my brain’s retrieval system and I began to sing,

Do you know how hard it is to find
a photo of a gospel QUARTET?
Google can't count. I finally chose this Gaither photo.
When I can read my title clear
to mansions in the skies,
I'll bid farewell to every fear,
and wipe my weeping eyes;
and wipe my weeping eyes,
and wipe my weeping eyes,
I'll bid farewell to every fear,
and wipe my weeping eyes.

(Memory validated at

            I didn’t remember the next three verses, but I did fairly well on the first. And I didn’t just remember the words and lyrics, I heard a men’s quartet singing it in harmony with a lively tempo. 

            Hymns have the speculative fiction qualities of time travel and teletransport. (I might have made up the second term, but I’m sure there’s a more familiar word out there.) What I mean is, a hymn can take me back to another time and another place. (It must be one way time travel, because hymns never take me forward.) When I see Psalm 91, not only do I hear a choral arrangement, but I’m singing it on the chapel steps at Northeastern Bible College with the rest of the choir in the spring of 1972. And I’m eighteen years old. Eighteen. Years. Old.

            When I sing “In the Garden,” I see and hear Jorge Zambrano playing his guitar and singing with an Ecuadorian accent. He was part of our Open Air Campaigners team from Hawthorne Gospel Church. I wasn’t even eighteen then.

            Some people don’t like hymns, or any kind of church music for that matter. When our little choir leads the praise songs at the beginning of our worship service, I’ve sadly gotten used to people staring silently at us, sometimes their arms folded defiantly. “You can’t make me sing!” My sons acted like this, and I once asked a coworker how she got her kids to sing in church. She looked at me like I was crazy before giving the obvious answer, “I smack them in the back of the head.” Aha. 

            You might be surprised to learn a New Testament writer commands us to sing hymns, and not just hymns, but other music. The first passage is from Paul’s letter to the Ephesians, while the second passage is from his letter to the Colossians.

18 Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery. Instead, be filled with the Spirit, 19 speaking to one another with psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit. Sing and make music from your heart to the Lord, 20 always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. (Ephesians 5, NIV)

One Sunday we ALL used tambourines.
One church lady called 9-1-1.

          Don’t go to the bar. Go to choir practice.

Notice that several kinds of music are listed. They seem like they should be synonyms, but there must be nuances of meaning. I hope I’m correct in taking that to mean we have God’s blessing to use different styles of music in our churches. One trend I like is joining old hymn lyrics to new melodies or new rhythms.

Notice that our singing serves two purposes:  We sing to each other and we sing to the Lord. Why do we sing to each other? The Colossians passage answers the question: We  teach each other through our music.

16 Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom, teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord. (Colossians 3, NKJV)
            If you hate hymns, you probably stopped reading a few paragraphs ago. If you love hymns, which ones are your favorites? Why? Which are your least favorite? Why?

No comments:

Post a Comment