Keep on Singing

“How can we sing the Lord’s song in a strange land?” – Psalm 137:4

Cicely Tyson, who starred in the Broadway revival of The Trip to Bountiful, won a Tony Award at age 88 for her stirring portrayal of Mrs. Carrie Watts, an elderly hymn-singing, hymn-adoring woman who wants nothing more than to see her family’s home in Bountiful, Texas, one more time before she dies.

In order to get there, she must escape the controlling confines of her son’s home in Houston, where she endures constant nitpicking from her spiteful daughter-in-law.

At one point in the second act, an anxious Mrs. Watts finds renewed courage in her quest by singing “Blessed Assurance.” But what neither Tyson nor the play’s directors might have predicted is that, at most performances, the audience started singing along with her, sometimes belting out the stirring refrain in full-throated, four-part harmony.

In an era when secular hymn singing is mostly unheard of, perhaps especially in New York City, many media outlets documented the faith-fused phenomena.

We long to sing. When I’m angry or depressed, I often sit at the piano and leaf through the hymnal, singing annoyingly loud and waiting for inspiration to return. Generally, it does.

I sing robustly at church, too, and I put away the hymnal when I know the words, because I don’t want that cumbersome book impeding my enthusiasm. I need the song, and the song needs me.

To resist is to sing, and to lead in resistance is to encourage others—and ourselves—to keep singing, despite all the reasons to abstain. Sometimes we sing for joy, but most often we sing in want of it.

“How can we sing the Lord’s song in a strange land?” The better question is “how can we not?”   


God, keep a song in my heart and on my lips.

About the Author
J. Bennett Guess contributed this devotional to Rise Up! Spirituality for Resistance, a collection of devotionals to keep you burning bright without burning out, whether you’re leading a justice effort at church or heading out to join a local protest. You can order Rise Up! from UCC Resources.