Have you ever listened to a young child as they play, unaware of anything but the project at hand. They are often humming or singing to themselves. Many of the earliest games we learned on the playground involved a song or a chant: “Ring-around-the-Rosie,” “London Bridge is Falling Down.” Singing is part of what makes us a human being, and is one activity that involves our head, our heart, and our body working together.
For the Israelites, praying and singing were often indistinguishable from each other. As soon as they were safe across the Red Sea from the Egyptians, they broke out the timbrels and tambourines and sang “I will sing unto the Lord for He has triumphed gloriously!” (Ex. 15:1). The psalmist sang in times of joy and sorrow. Mary’s sang about her joy and trust in God in the Magnificat.
The word “liturgy” comes from Greek and combines the words for “work” and “people.” Liturgy is the work we do together as the people of God. Song allows all of us, no matter what our gifts, to participate fully in that communal worship. Our worship tradition includes chants, hymns, songs of praise, psalms, and much more. When we lift up our voices together in song we are sharing in a natural expression of our faith.
Now, my guess is that neither the Israelites nor Mary were trained musicians. They were not worried about whether they were singing on pitch, or had hit that high note precisely. Instead, they allowed the natural enthusiasm and love of God to pour out of their heart and voice. They sang with the intensity of prayer, and in turn their song became prayer. The next time you have your hymnal out, I encourage you to think about the text, and let whatever emotion is being expressed in that text flow out in song. Our combined song will be beautiful music to God’s ears. Praise God! Alleluia!