Praise the Lord! Sing to the Lord a new song, God’s praise in the assembly of the faithful. – Psalm 149:1 (NRSV)
I used to sing. Not shower singing or holler-in-the-car singing or hum-to-myself singing, all of which I still do. But once upon a time, I sang in trained, auditioned choirs.
It was an exhilarating activity that I walked away from years ago, for a variety of perfectly fine reasons, but I miss it. Even before Covid-19 ground congregational singing to a halt for health reasons, I was missing the choral experience: The practice of tuning your ear and voice to be part of one sound. The acute awareness of breath and diaphragm and body. The rapt attention to a conductor’s slightest change in expression or flick of wrist that could change the tide of the music. The miracle of harmonization. The joy in being pushed by the efforts of those around you to bring your best work – your best voice – to the moment.
Community, at its most harmonized, elicits our best selves. Invites our best presence. Strengthens and multiplies our gifts. Teaches us new songs, studies them with us, practices them together, sings them together.
All of which prompts me to wonder if I’m missing singing only or perhaps also missing the discipline of learning new songs. All by myself, I have a habit of singing the same songs. Listening to the same Spotify playlist. Rehearsing the same worldview. Repeating the same prayers. Breathing at the same intervals, but not really drawing breath down to my diaphragm. Not really using the fullest extent of my range.
Sing to the Lord a new song, but how can we sing something new if we are not listening closely to one another?
Sing to the Lord a new song, but how can we sing something new so long as we are determined to be our own conductors, our own deejays, our own producers, our own one-person bands?
I would sing you a new song, O God Most High, but first I must set down my baton, practice my deep breathing, and tune my spirit to the community’s ever-evolving harmonies.
Rachel Hackenberg serves on the national staff for the United Church of Christ. She is the author of Writing to God and the co-author of Denial Is My Spiritual Practice, among other titles. Her blog is Faith and Water.