How Can I Keep From Singing & COVID-19

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(Miss Pam’s sits at the piano with her choir and orchestra, with Beckie conducting.)

What does singing praise in church look like as we come out of quarantine? For that matter, what will choirs and music academies do without the gift of song being united in vocal artistry? While none of us know that answer, we do know that Germany, in coming out of quarantine, has temporarily prohibited places of worship to sing due to the aerosol particles  that are projected when a person uses proper technique in singing. There is sufficient scientific evidence to show that six feet apart is not enough when projecting your voice, as one does in singing. Orchestras, places of worship, choral groups, praise groups, and bands are all scrambling to find new solutions to sharing and performing music.

Music is an integral part of the human design. The hymn writer Robert Lowry asks, “How Can I Keep From Singing?” (This rendition of the song by the young people of the A Cappella Academy is particularly wonderful.) In every part of the world music, both song and instrumental, plays a role in soothing the weary soul, in praising God, and in creating communities formed by the love of both creating song and those who appreciate listening to song. Some of us would argue that a world without music would be void of one the greatest gifts God has created within the human capacity of creativity.

As a theologian, I would also argue that music is also pleasing to God, the giver and creator of every living creature. From the beginning to the end of the biblical witness we see that music is used to praise God. In the Hebrew Bible (Old Testament) Moses sang a song of praise when the Israelites were delivered from slavery, the Psalms themselves are meant to be sung, King David was notably one who regularly created music and sang songs of praise and lament to God. Isaiah the prophet, when he had his vision, was transported to the heavenly courts and witnessed the seraphim singing “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God.Nehemiah had a music festival dedicated to God when the wall was rebuilt, and David danced before the Lord with no shame as to his lack of dress. The minor prophet Zephaniah also remind us that God rejoices over us with singing!

When we move into the New Testament, we see music continues to be used by God’s people to worship God. James says, “Is anyone among you in trouble? Let them pray. Is anyone happy? Let them sing songs of praise.” Paul and Silas were praising God even when they were in jail when a mighty miracle–an earthquake occurred to release them from captivity. Paul tells disciples, “Let the message of Christ dwell among you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom through psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit, singing to God with gratitude in your hearts.” Music is pleasing to God.

In my own experience I have heard God speak to me when I was caught up in praise songs to God. One time was during a men’s Emmaus time of closing. The church was packed with men singing songs from the heart to God, and I heard the voice of God speak to me in my personal situation. Another time when I was leading worship, the choir was singing God of Heaven, and God clearly spoke to me and told me to move my place of residence into the town where I was serving as lead pastor. The voice was clear to me, and I began to cry, all from hearing God during a time of praise through music. When we are focused on praising God through song, our hearts can be softened to hear the voice of God! It has happened to me, maybe it has happened to you!

What are we to do with the potential paradox of not being allowed to sing in worship and the fact that music and singing songs to God give pleasure to the Lord? How do we put these two contrasting ideas together? We remember that the Israelites, when they were captives in a foreign land were tormented and cajoled to sing, and yet they stated, “by the rivers of Babylon we hung up our lyres and wept. How can we sing the songs of the Lord while in a foreign land?”

We might feel that way too. Corona Virus has turned our known world upside-down. The obstacles are many; We cannot meet in person for school, concerts, movies or worship. Some are facing economic challenges and lost jobs, others are experiencing shortages of food, some are fighting for their lives, and others are on the front lines as essential workers doing the fighting. Some have lost loved ones, and experienced deep grief. How can we keep on singing?

And yet, (there is always an “and yet”). And yet, the prophet Isaiah, speaking to those who are weeping by the rivers of Babylon says, sing to the Lord a new song. Isaiah gives hope for the future, hope of something new, hope that God has not abandoned, and a promise that God is still with us. We can claim those promises too. And we, too, can look for hope even among the devastating times we are currently experiencing. How do we do that?

First, we remember that we can use songs to praise God while in our own homes and in our own personal lives. It is important to do so, even when we do not feel like praising God. We praise God in the midst of the storm. If you have not done so, try to sing or play a song of praise right now. Maybe this one will speak to you, as the song writer says, “Even when it hurts I will praise you!”

Secondly, while we cannot gather in person, we can join in the many different ways offered to gather virtually on-line. Choose one or two or three worship services to attend, and when they offer up songs in worship, sing with all of your might right where you are seated–you can even stand in place and sing. I have personally enjoyed the smorgasbord of worship every weekend, and I sing right along with all those who are praising God in all the many formats that are offered. Sing to the Lord! The people gathered together, even virtually, give glory to God.

Thirdly, while we recognize that music is a great gift to use in worship to praise God, we also recognize there are other elements used in worship. Right now one of those elements might be silence. Can you hear God speak to you in the silence? It was the prophet Elijah who listened for God in the wind, rain, earthquake and fire on Mt. Horeb, but God spoke in a gentle whisper. God spoke in the silence of the mountain. Silence is one aspect of contemplative practice. Could it be that right now we are called to hear God in the silence?

Fourth, we can listen deeply to all of creation singing praise to God. In particular, Jesus says to those who try to stop his disciples from praising him, “If the people stop the very rocks will cry out.” Psalm 148 states that all the earth will praise God, to include the sea creatures of the ocean. Right now the birds are singing, listen to them, and join in praising God. Pastor Louie Giglio has a great teaching about the stars, the whales and the symphony of all creation singing praise to God.

Finally, in the deepest part of my heart, I know this to be temporary. Music is so integral in the life of God, that I cannot believe that the music in our hearts used to praise God in community, from song to instrumental, will be silenced to eternity. Use this time to pray to God to lift this pandemic from us. Personally, I believe in a God of miracles. We know that the God who created all of creation can also lift a pandemic. Lift your voice in song, and your heart in prayer as we repent for not trusting God, and join in the cacophony of all of creation in singing a new song to the Lord. Pray that all the heartache felt around the world from this virus will be lifted. And, when that lifting happens, remember to give God all the praise and glory. How can we keep from singing? We don’t have to, while we wait and pray, we can simply learn to sing praise to God in a new way.

The Broken Angel Wing

The Broken Angel Wing

angelThe angel was given to me by the family of a dear friends of mine who passed away this year. No sooner did the angel come into my possession than her wing broke off. At first I was devastated, this was part of Phil and Norma’s collection that had been gifted to me, and I remember well the years they had collected these figurines, especially the angels that played horn. But, as I reflected on the broken wing it occurred to me that we all have brokenness in one way or another. Maybe this broken wing was a reflection of who we all are as created beings. Do angels get broken wings?

I cannot answer if angels get their wings broken, but I do know that we humans know brokenness. Humans have brokenness all around us. These days it seems that everywhere we turn we have hurt or loss or health issues or unwanted changed situations. Change is hard, brokenness is hard.

And yet, we also know that even in the midst of brokenness and broken wings, we can look to the God who created us who says, “See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland.” (Isaiah 43:19) Even now while we are in these 12 days of Christmas we remember the light of Jesus Christ that has come into the darkness, and “the darkness has not overcome it.” (John 1:5)

For me, this broken wing has become a symbol of hope in the darkness. This has become a symbol to remind me that God cares for all of the created order of the universe; humans, angels, those who have gone before us, and the earth and all that is in it. God cares for us in the midst of our brokenness, loss and changed situations.

God cares for you too. There might be hurt, there might be a broken wing or two, but God still empowers us to fly in new and unexpected ways.

As we look towards the new year, may you be able to see hope in a new ways in spite of broken wings, and remember that God has new ways of teaching us how to fly.

Grief-5 Basic Steps

This is the season when our grief hits us the hardest. We are entering into those seasons of great memories, and hard memories. Because of changed situations, waves of grief might be falling upon us.

Waves of grief: I remember it well, and it has the potential to come  again, over and over again. Washing over me and my family. Its like the ocean. You think the water has stopped, all is calm, and suddenly wave after wave begins to splash all around you, above you, and sometimes carries you away. I had forgotten how grief comes in waves.

One of my call verses to ordained ministry comes out of my first story of grief. When my own young husband died suddenly in a car accident 25 years ago leaving me behind with two babies-the unbearable grief almost got the best of me–but God was there all along. God is with you too, though you may not feel it at this time.

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2 Corinthains 1: 3 has the Apostle Paul’s greeting the people from Corinth with these words:, “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God.”

Now I am here to walk alongside of others in their own grieving process. In all that experience it still does not “prepare” you for the next time when you will be in the midst of grief. The second worst day of my life came three years ago, when my brother-in-law, the very one who had stepped in to help me when my husband had not been there, died suddenly of a massive heart attack. This kind of heart attack is called the widow maker, and virtually there is nothing anyone can do when it strikes. One day he was healthy, working out in the pool and helping strangers in the nursing home, the next morning he woke up not feeling very well, and died shortly thereafter. Ron was only 61, loving life, and serving others.

And now my cousin’s husband, suddenly departed this earth on Thanksgiving day; and all the loss of the people I love at the church I serve. It is never easy.

So how do we cope? How do we survive? How do we go on living when sometimes there seems to be very little to live for? Here are 5 basic steps, a very good place to begin. Sometimes in the beginning of grief, we need to go over these basic steps daily for a long time:

1) Grief is a process, it takes time. While this seems basic sometimes we forget that grief is not something we “get over” quickly. We can be grieved over many things: Loss of a loved one, the loss of a job, kids moving out of the house, divorce, a change in our own health status or that of one we love. I remember when I attended a grief support group for young widows and they told me I would not feel whole again until 5 years. I remember thinking, “There is no way I can make it that long in this condition.” 5 Years was right, I did not feel fully alive again until 5 years later. (Sorry to be the bearer of that bad news, but keep reading there are things you can do NOW.)

2) Take time to grieve. Give yourself space and permission. Some circles call this the “white space.” This is unplanned time to allow yourself to be, to remember and to be sad.

3) Tears are healthy. Use them. Take time to cry. It might seem that you have already been crying far too much, maybe it seems that there are no more tears left. Tears also help you process. There is a chemical element of tears that is cleansing. After the two year point when my tears no longer came at regular intervals several times a day, I would take some space and listen to music that would MAKE my cry. This did two helpful things: It helped me control my emotions in public, and it allowed the grief process to continuing working in me.

4) Find out how you “process” things and DO it. I have discovered that I process life events with pictures. So I pull out pictures of my loved ones and go over them and remember. (I even did this when my dog died, I loved my dog!) Maybe you process by telling your story. Find a trusted friend or a pastor who will listen to your story. Tell it over and over again, this helps the processing. I have also found that writing to my loved one in a journal helps me process. This had an added benefit in that months later I could reread my journal and really see that I HAD made progress in my grief work even though sometimes it FEELS like you are standing still.

5) Don’t leave God out of the mix. The Risen Christ Jesus promises to be with us until the end of the ages. (Matthew 28:20) The biblical witness reminds us from the beginning to the end that we have a God who loves us, who cares for us and who will be an abiding presence with us.  But in the midst of our grief sometimes we feel that God HAS abandoned us, we feel that God has forgotten us and we feel like God doesn’t care about us. God is big enough to hear your cries of pain and hurt. There are very real persons of faith, particularly in the Psalms of Lament (Psalms 22, 88 and many others,) who cry out in their pain and they ask the question, “God where were you and where are you now?” (Psalm 22 is what Jesus cried from the cross, “My God, my God why have you forsaken me.”) Cry out to God, and when you cannot seem to pray for yourself, ask others to pray with you and for you. (Get on a church prayer list, have faithful friends pray for you, find a Christian prayer and healing service near to you.)

This is a contemporary praise song that helps me in times of being in the desert by Hillsong United entitled, “The Desert Song.”

Grief work is hard, but whatever you do do NOT do nothing. Doing nothing will only help you become bitter and self destructive. REALLY! May the God of all comfort comfort you in your pain and grief.

In Christ,

Pastor Sarah