How can I keep from singing?

Frederick and Mary Ann Brussat from Spirituality & Health are currently offering an e-course called “Practicing Spirituality with Protestants.” It started on Ash Wednesday.  I meant to put a note about it on this blog weeks ago, before the course started, to tell you all about it, but regretfully, I didn't get it done. The Brussats periodically offer these e-courses. I’ve signed up forseveral (“Practicing Spirituality with Catholics,” “Practicing Spirituality with Anglicans,” and “Practicing Spirituality with Jesus: A Journey for Lent”) and have always found them interesting.

Every day an e-mail is sent to those who signed up for the course. The e-mail contains a thought-provoking book excerpt plus a suggested activity for the day related to the theme of the day’s excerpt.

This past Sunday, the e-course featured the theme of “Hymn Singing,” which is “one of the most popular” among the “classic Protestant practices.” Brussat writes, “ In the days when Catholics were still saying the Mass in Latin, you knew you were passing a Protestant church when you heard congregational singing coming from the building.”

That’s the tradition I in which I grew up and still worship. A tradition of wonderful hymns and enthusiastic heartfelt singing. Theology, melody, harmony, and rhythm make a good marriage. One that sticks. The words and the music that I learned as a child are still deep inside me, yet easily rise to the surface with a single chord.

The e-course suggests to “go into a Protestant church this Sunday and join in the singing. Don't worry if you don't think you sing well or don't know all the hymns. You probably won't be the only one. What matters is what you bring to this practice -- devotion and enthusiasm. To describe what we mean, we

offer these directions for singing from John Wesley, the founder of Methodism, and the brother of Charles, who wrote many hymns, including ‘Christ the Lord Is Risen Today.’" (An aside, these directions from Wesley are also in the hymnal of my church, “The Covenant Hymnal: A Worshipbook.”)

DIRECTIONS FOR SINGING

by John Wesley

* Learn these tunes before you learn any others; afterwards learn as many as you please.

* Sing all. See that you join with the congregation as frequently as you can. Let not a slight degree of weakness or weariness hinder you. If it is a cross to you, take it up, and you will find it a blessing.

* Sing lustily and with a good courage. Beware of singing as if you were half dead, or half asleep; but lift up your voice with strength.

* Sing modestly. Do not bawl, so as to be heard above or distinct from the rest of the congregation, that you may not destroy the harmony; but strive to unite your voices together, so as to make one clear melodious sound.

* Sing in time. Whatever time is sung be sure to keep with it. Do not run before nor stay behind it; but attend close to the leading voices, and move therewith as exactly as you can; and take care not to sing too slow.

* Above all sing spiritually. Have an eye to God in every word you sing. Aim at pleasing him more than yourself, or any other creature. In order to do this attend strictly to the sense of what you sing, and see that your heart is not carried away with the sound, but offered to God continually.

If you want to hear a CD of classic Protestant hymns sung with guitar and beautiful harmonies, check out by the CD, “Hymns: Streams of Mercy” by The Frantzich Brothers. Some free .mp3 downloads are available on their site.

In my church this last Sunday we sang, “When I Survey the Wondrous Cross” and “O Sacred Heart, Now Wounded,” both classic Lent hymns. The third verse of “O Sacred Heart” never fails to move me:

“What language shall I borrow to thank thee, dearest friend,
for this thy dying sorrow, thy pity without end?
O make me thine forever; and should I fainting be,
Lord, let me never, never outlive my love to thee.”