A Singing Faith & the Hymnal as Our Life Script
On Monday I posted my review of Walter Brueggemann's new book A Glad Obedience: Why and What We Sing (Westminster John Knox Press, 2019). As I pondered what to post this morning, a day after we were marked with Ash to begin the Lenten journey, I decided to come back to Brueggemann's book.
Brueggemann writes to remind us of the power of song, especially the hymns of the church. By and large churches are moving away from hymnals. My denominational hymnal was published in 1995. It's an excellent hymnal, but except for special printings it is not available for sale. The Presbyterians issued a new hymnal in 2013, which is the occasion for Brueggemann's book. In an age of projectors, the trend has been to move to projected songs, but there is a feeling among some of us that something might be lost. We might not be as adept at singing our faith as we once were. The value of projected songs is that they remain "current." The question we ask, however, is what is current singable? That is, are the songs being written today being written with congregations in mind or performers? The other concern has to do with depth. Now, I enjoy singing so-called "praise songs," but a steady diet of these kinds of songs without other forms of song is, in my mind, spiritually unhealthy.
There are many riches in our hymnals. Every time we use them, we sing along with older generations who sang before us. Everytime we use them we join the large song sounded by many tribes, nations, and tongues. Every time we use them, we enter into his courts with praise and candor. Every time we use them, we declare for ourselves and to our children that another way in the world is possible and is here embraced. We refuse the governance of death. We sing to the God of life, the one who wills life in a world of abundance. [A Glad Obedience, p. 59].
Indeed, there are many riches in our hymnals. Some are old and some are new. On Sunday we will sing, at Central Woodward Christian Church, Martin Luther's now ancient hymn "A Mighty Fortress is Our God." We will sing it boldly accompanied by the organ. We will also sing a much more recent hymn, which is beautiful in its own right, "On Eagles Wings." Both hymns reflect the message of Psalm 91: "You who live in the shelter of the Most High, who abide in the shadow of the Almighty, will say to the LORD, 'My refuge and my fortress; my God, in whom I trust'" (Ps. 91:1-2).
Ours is a singing faith, and "the hymnal like the Psalter, is our script for this life." [A Glad Obedience, p. 59]. So let us sing with boldness about the faith we hold dear, singing songs old and new, drawing as we're able from the bounty that is the inheritance of the Christian faith.