This article was first published in the July 2018 issues of our parish magazine. It is still relevant now!
I think most readers of these articles know that for me, music is a key component of worship. This came up in a recent Bible Study discussion about worship, and I commented how frustrating it is when congregants complain that they didn’t know all the hymns. The group laughed in agreement with those that complain, so I told them this story from my personal experience:
I love Taize worship, and I really miss the monthly afternoon Taize services that we used to have in the chancel at St Margarets. It took a while, but eventually I learned to listen to the music, internalise it, and sing the harmonies that just come to me. On one occasion, the monthly Taize afternoon service happened to fall on Easter Day. It had been a spiritually draining Holy Week, and I was really looking forward to an hour of Taize chants and prayers. However, disaster! I completely lost my voice, and could barely croak out a few words. What to do? I didn’t want to miss the Taize service, so I went along anyway, and took my usual place in the chancel, praying fervently to be able to join in. Jeremy and Debby began playing and singing, and the other worshippers present sang along. I listened. Initially frustrated, I gradually began to relax and just breathe in the music. I let it surround me, inside and out. Reader, it was one of the most spiritually fulfilling musical experiences I can recall. I had prayed to be able to join in. I had wanted to be able to sing; what I needed was to listen – and that is what I was given. Our prayers are always answered – just not necessarily in the way we want or expect!
One the front cover of our white hymn books is a quote from St Augustine of Hippo: “Those who sing pray twice” – once through the words, and once through the music.
To those that might be prone to a little grumpiness when hymns are selected that they don’t know, I say what I said to that Bible Study group: listen. We always have hymn books or song sheets during services. Hear the music; see the words. Leave the rest to the Holy Spirit.
The Coldplay song “Fix You” begins with the lines
“When you try your best but you don’t succeed
When you get what you want but not what you need”
If you are faced with a hymn that you don’t know and are fed up with trying to sing it but not getting it ‘right’, listen. It probably isn’t what you want, but may well be what the Holy Spirit has decided you need.
Of course, if you would really rather know the hymns, you could consider joining Maggie’s Music Makers! We meet every Wednesday to sing through (and learn where necessary) the hymns for the coming Sunday services.