Give praise to the LORD, proclaim God’s name;
make known among the nations what God has done.
Sing to the LORD, sing praises;
tell of all God’s wonderful acts.
- Psalm 105:1-2 (NIV)
It’s an odd irony of hymn singing that the more I love a hymn, the less able I am to sing it. I get to my favorite lines and a lump rises in my throat and tears come to my eyes. The notes I want to belt out at full voice come out crooked, and I sound less like a crooner than I do like a bullfrog.
This is particularly true for one of my favorite hymns, “How Can I Keep from Singing.” I want to really thunder out: “No storm can shake my inmost calm, while to that rock I’m clinging. Since Love is Lord of heaven and earth, how can I keep from singing?” But before I even get to “my inmost calm,” I’m in full-on frog mode with that lovely run of descending thirds eyeing me reproachfully.
Normally, the choir and congregation cover up for this moment, and my poor lumpy croaking goes unnoticed. But now that I’m singing all by myself as I worship on my couch, there’s not much to cover it up. The Psalms do, indeed, tell me that I have to sing. But they never say anything about having to sing well. As long as this strange season of remote worship lasts, the choir of frogs will be in full effect.
And I’ll bet that as far as God is concerned, I’ve never sounded better.
Through all the tumult and the strife, I hear that music ringing. It finds an echo in my soul. How can I keep from singing?
John Edgerton is Lead Pastor at First United Church of Oak Park, Illinois.