There are deeply disturbing stories emerging from our current global situation. They weigh heavily. Yesterday, I kept seeing posts about a choir that had continued with a rehearsal, as a joyful activity, early on in this crisis. A few weeks later, most are sick, some critically and some have died. It is incredibly sobering. And incredibly sad. This thing we do that usually fills our lives and ears and hearts with such beauty, tainted by the danger and reality of this virus. We will sing together again, I am certain. But while we cannot, our voices can, and must, continue to lift our spirits and fill our world with joy and comfort. So, sing. It is not a small thing.
My life flows on in endless song;
above earth’s lamentation,
I catch the sweet, though far-off hymn
that hails a new creation.
When I started this year of song, I received a number of personal comments shared by those who made suggestions of hymns for me to consider. This is the last story I have to share from that list – although there are a few more weeks to go! I have placed this beautiful hymn near the end of my year because it contains the line, “how can I keep from singing?” If there is one thing that has driven me to do this project, that is probably it. There is something about all that life contains that requires me to sing – many tunes, many words, many emotions.
Through all the tumult and the strife,
I hear that music ringing.
It finds an echo in my soul.
How can I keep from singing?
The gift of this hymn, written in the mid 1800s by Robert Lowry, came from a fellow pianist who started out by saying that while it is lovely, she has often been annoyed by its lack of a time signature. However, she acknowledged that somehow a beautiful character emerges from this very thing. There’s an uncertainty in the rhythm that, despite our preponderance for a regular beat, presents us with something both soothing and meaningful. A little like finding a song to sing in spite of the uncertainties of life.
It is dear to me that this friend also shared that her mother has requested this be sung at her funeral. Knowing this has made it difficult for her to sing those famous, repeated words, “how can I keep from singing?” as the reality of that day seems to creep closer. But she loves the hymn anyway, and it remains a treasure. I am once again struck by how words and music carry, through time, our common experiences; providing comfort and space to let our emotions flow.
What though my joys and comforts die?
I know my Savior liveth.
What though the darkness gather round?
Songs in the night he giveth.
Whenever I listen to this hymn and sing it, I will be reminded of this shared story. The combination of beauty, annoyance, recognition, sorrow and comfort. Mixed emotions. So many of these hymns speak of the range of our experiences; recognizing that life just isn’t simple. But sometimes they also state really simple ideas that can provide so much more than we expect. This one is like that. It reminds us that we all have a voice and were made to sing. A built in instrument that has no equal; one that can sooth, weep, uplift and inspire. I am unendingly grateful for the gift of singing – whether it’s done out loud or silently, in community or alone. Sing.
No storm can shake my inmost calm
while to that Rock I’m clinging.
Since Christ is Lord of heaven and earth,
how can I keep from singing?