In my heart – besides being a writer – I am a singer. Not because I can sing well, mind you. I am a baritone… singing quite below the "normal" feminine ranges of alto and soprano, and I am a bit self-conscious about it.
But I am a singer because I have heard the music of my heart… and have "felt" my heart sing at the most amazing moments… when actually no sound was coming out of my lips. It’s like I hear music in myself. And at times I cannot shut it off.
Perhaps you know what I mean. Perhaps you too can hear music or feel it swell within you, even when there is no music playing.
In my younger mothering years I delighted in singing with children. Those were the days of fun songs like nursery rhymes, bible songs, lull-a-byes, campfire songs, and happy little ditties that filled the air.
My children would sing for the joy of singing, without fear or self-consciousness.
At some point in their development they would no longer sing out loud. Maybe someone discouraged them, or maybe they just absorbed the message from our "American Idol" culture, that we should not sing if we don’t have the gift. Such thinking is epidemic: I have already confessed my own self-consciousness about singing, even at my "mature" age when I should "know better" than to be so intimidated by peers or culture.
So what am I getting at here?
It is that we are all made to sing.
I mean that. I think we need to wrestle up the gumption to sing for all we are worth. Not to impress anyone. Not to put on a show.
But for God’s sake. And our own.
Like I said, we were made for this. But what I am talking about is unlike the physiological DNA-driven gift of sweet vocal cords that some of us received at birth.
The words "sing" and "singing" appear in the Bible over 200 times, with over 60 mentions in the Psalms alone. ("Psalm" is another word for sacred song or hymn.)
Think about it: Human beings are the only creatures on the planet that can sing. The only other creatures in God’s great plan who sing are the angels. (Does it help to know you have something in common with the angels?)
(Yes, granted, birds tweet and have "songs." Even certain whales "sing" siren songs. Indeed, much of creation "sings" within its instinctual and natural limits. But we humans sing beyond instinct. It is an act of the will and a motive of the heart. Each voice absolutely unique and recognizable to the Creator.)
Singing puts us in the moment. It engages us. Whether it’s the song that others have penned that we make our own… or the one written in our human heart.
Your song matters to God because you matter to God. Zephaniah 3: 17 paints a picture of a God who would sing over you:
The LORD, your God, is in your midst, a warrior who gives victory; he will rejoice over you with gladness, he will renew you in his love; he will exult over you with loud singing.
A God who sings over us? Not unlike a parent singing over a beloved child. Just as I have delighted in my children’s singing, God delights in hearing his children sing for the same reasons.
Now recall that baptism makes you a Child of God. Knowledge of that identity will help you sing more if you’ve lost the urge.
Recall the songs of children: They sing the way God intended us to sing… Freely.
Psalm 100 illustrates this:
Make a joyful noise to the LORD, all the lands!
Serve the LORD with gladness!
Come into his presence with singing!
Know that the LORD is God!
It is he that made us, and we are his.
Still debating as to whether you can lift your voice? Consider the language of Psalm 100: Why else would the psalmist mention a "joyful noise"? Like the songs of creation, all of us are capable of raising "a joyful noise" to God! Not just the great and the talented singers of this world. All of us are made to sing!
But there’s more: the psalmist instructs us to "Come into his presence with singing!" There’s an exclamation point at the end of that line!
I have three thoughts regarding this instruction.
First, at the beginning of Mass, and especially appropriate on a Sunday, we begin the liturgy with a hymn. We join our voices in song that is meant to be our prayer in unison; we come into God’s presence in the sanctuary with singing. Even at Masses without formal music usually open with an antiphon. The Mass itself is punctuated by periods of song. One example is the song that is the Santus ("Holy, Holy, Holy" is a song from the Book of Revelation. See Rev 4:8 ff.) The Mass also has moments of silence – where the song of the heart is sung.
Second, when we sing out of the fullness of our heart, (outside of Mass) in our daily life, we can come into the presence of God. We can sing in the shower, in the car, or as we do our chores. Wherever.
The other day I found myself humming along as I was working the mulch in the garden. The rhythmic work I was doing just filled me with song. And I became conscious of two things for the briefest of moments. First, my singing erupted spontaneously before I even became aware of it. And second, when I took time to consider that I was singing in my heart, I had a precious revelation… my little song was an exercise of my being human, of being fully alive in the presence of the Lord even in my little task. Not only that, my tune was adding to the on-going joyful noise of creation… For somewhere beyond my hearing, the hymns of heaven’s angels are reveling in the presence of God. My singing was yet a small holy echo of heaven in my garden patch, because that song was within me.
Finally, I think our culture’s fascination (and dare I say deification?) of its famous singers proves the point: God made us to sing.
Today’s popular singers are doing something they were created to do. Of course, many vocalists have not been exposed to the gospel. Self-centeredness or selfishness often clouds acknowledgement of God as the true source of the gift. Indeed, our culture spends too much time exalting the gift, instead of the giver.
I imagine, that for many of today’s music stars, their experience of singing makes them feel alive in a way that they cannot totally describe without pointing to something beyond explanation. That "something" is the divine spark of the soul. Singing is one of the many joys in life that is meant to bring us to God.
The simple idea is this: all truth, beauty and goodness reflects God in some way. It is how we recognize God’s fingerprint – his movement – in creation.
Truth, beauty, and goodness are the attributes of God. And when you find these things in music, your heart cannot help but overflow. Such songs brings us into God’s presence. Even the silent songs of the heart do this. (Clearly the reverse is true: Songs that deny truth, beauty and goodness, are also rejecting God, the source of those things.)
When singing aloud in public, you may still have doubts about your vocal skills as I do. That’s performance anxiety to be sure. But what’s important to recognize is that I have no anxiety when I sing in the kitchen, or in my car, or on a walk, or with children, or singing whatever comes to mind as I garden.
Find some place where you can sing, then sing.
After all, God is singing over us. So sing your own sacred psalm. Be it a joyful ditty with the kids, a beautiful song from a well-known singer, a hymn of sublime praise with a choir, or the singular hum of your own heart song.
"Come into his presence with singing! Know that the Lord is God.
It is he who made us, and we are His."
The Lord beckons us to sing. We are his. Singing reminds us of that.
So, sing something. Everyday.
©2010 Patricia W. Gohn
About the Author
Pat Gohn is a married empty-nester with three adult children and four grandchildren. An author, catechist, speaker, and host of the Among Women podcast since 2009, her books include the award-winning Blessed, Beautiful, and Bodacious: Celebrating the Gift of Catholic Womanhood, and All In: Why Belonging to the Catholic Church Matters. She works in Catholic publishing as an editor. Visit PatGohn.net