Sing Because You Have To
But I will sing of your strength, in the morning I will sing of your love; for you are my fortress, my refuge in times of trouble. – Psalm 59:16 (NIV)
Last Thursday the singer Bobby McFerrin, hero of the late ‘80s number 1 hit, “Don’t Worry Be Happy,” was singing at my church.
The occasion: a hippie 12-hour singalong on the penultimate day of the year, called “Sing for Your Life.” A small group of us, masked and tested, stood on the chancel and filled the sanctuary with nonsense sounds. We matched pitch, found harmonies, introduced discordant notes, took things in wild new directions, or just swayed to the music like insane sea anemones.
Bobby, who led us, is 71 now. He is slender and moves slowly because of the Parkinson’s that has been gradually consuming him. His eyes have a hundred-yard stare, but every once in a while the slackness of his face erupts into the impish visage of yore. He doesn’t have the vocal range he once did, but he’s still got the chops: a wild range of syllables and tones that froth up from the leviathan depths of the ocean within him, each of them starting a conversation.
At one point he paused the music, and cupping the mic, said slyly: “Anyone have any answers they want questioned?”
My teenage son raised his hand. “I know how much Parkinson’s is taking away from you because I’ve seen it ravage my aunt, who was once so independent. How do you find your fire?”
Bobby answered, “I get up every day, and I sing. I sing while I feed the dog. I sing while I get my wife breakfast, slowly. I sing because I have to. I still have so much music left inside of me.”
God, wake us up and make us sing, every day, no matter the burdens we carry. May we sing, as an exercise in emptying our lungs of old breath. May we sing, because it’s how we know we’re still breathing after all that has happened. May we sing to be Your lungs in the world, whether we are worried or happy. Amen.+
Molly Baskette pastors at First Church Berkeley (CA) UCC. She is the author of several books about church renewal, parenting & faith, and spirituality. You can connect with her by subscribing to her newsletter, Doomsday Dance Party.