Singing Our Lives

"If music is the language of the soul made audible, then human voices, raised
in concert in human gatherings, are primary instruments of the soul."

— Don Saliers

What we sing and how we sing reveals much of who we are, and entering into another's song and music making provides a gateway into their world, which might be much different from our own. Something is shared in singing that goes beyond the words alone. This something has taken shape over many centuries in a practice that expresses our deepest yearning and dearest joy: the practice of singing our lives to God.

Something in Us Insists on Song
There is something about human beings that needs to make music. Humans have always sung at play and work, in joy and in grief, planting, harvesting, marching, mourning.

Where is song usually generated in your social life? What has been one of your most memorable experiences of singing? Of listening to others sing? What is the most heartbreaking music you have ever heard? What is the most joyous and ecstatic?

Faith is Born and Lives in Song
Psalms and canticles formed the heart of prayer and the music of the earliest Christian assemblies. How does your congregation develop, nurture and teach this practice? Who takes part?

What are a few of your favorite hymns? How did you learn these hymns? How have you developed not only a memory of the old hymns but also an openness to new ones?

Lifting voices to God shapes basic attitudes, affections, and ways of regarding ourselves, our neighbors and God. How do you feel gratitude, trust, sadness, joy, hope knit into your body by music? How do songs become integral parts of the theology by which you live? When has singing drawn you into a strong group experience?

How Do We Sing to God?
How do you sing in your church? Do you sing hymns? Chant? Praise choruses? Do you sing to the organ, or with recordings or bands? Do you use hymnals or sing words projected ontoa wall? Who sings in your church? Does your congregation invite everyone to participate fully, or is it more intent on honoring God with a polished sound from those with special gifts for music?

Hymn singing is intrinsic to worship and faith experience. How can your congregation help everyone offer praise, lament, or dedication to God?

Finding Our Voices
When people meet to worship, words and music form a communal identity. Individuals voice praise, lament, and need, but it does not leave them isolated, surrounding them instead with a great choir. Where, besides church, do you sing with a group? What identity have you formed with that group?

How does your congregation deal with the tension between "traditional" and "contemporary" church music? What are the strengths and weakness of each?

What differences need to be maintained between "secular" and "religious" music and poetry, if any? How does the creativity of one inspire the creativity of the other? What does Saturday night music have to do with Sunday morning singing?

However humble or sophisticated, singing together is an act of freedom. What kind of power do poets and musicians have that tyrants feel they have to suppress? Martyrs go to their deaths singing, an uncanny power of faith. What songs do you sing when you're in trouble?

Sharing the Sacred Power of Song
Where people sing of God, theology is formed and expressed in and through human bodies. Music lends its power to all the other practices that shape who we are. How does singing intersect with dying well? With giving testimony? With keeping Sabbath? How does it shape communities, or welcome Mary and Joseph to the stable on Christmas Eve?

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Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly; teach and admonish one another in all wisdom; and with gratitude in your hearts sing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs to God.

— Colossians 3:16

Sing to the Lord a new song, God's praise in the assembly of the faithful. Let Israel be glad in its Maker... Let them praise God's name with dancing, making melody to God with tambourine and lyre.

— Psalm 149:1-3

© 2006-2011 The Valparaiso Project on the Education and Formation of People in Faith