When I was a child, my dad tucked me into bed each night and together we sang this simple little song that he had learned from his mother;
God keep us safe this night
secure from all our fears
may angels guard us while we sleep
till morning light appears
What songs/stories come to your mind? A favorite hymn? A Bob Marley song? Something you just heard last night but love so much that you have played it over and over and over again until you’ve got it memorized? When I hear John Denver I’m instantly on a camping trip with my family singing songs around the campfire. When I hear a powerful Gospel song, or a Shaped Note song, I’m transported to singing and traveling with Village Harmony, a Vermont based music group. And “You are my Sunshine” instantly places the gentle weight of my babies in my arms, as I rocked and sang to them. Stories of adventure, stories of overcoming, stories of love.
And it’s not just memories that wrap story and song together. All songs arise from somewhere; a single author’s experience, and event, and intention, or an entire shared culture. The song “Olam Chesed Yibaneh,” meaning “I will build the world with love,” was written right after 9/11. A response of prayer and love in the face of devastation. When we sing it together, we add our voices to that prayer. The powerful protest song “Ain’t Gonna Let Nobody Turn Me ‘Round” grew from the violence practiced against those engaged in the Civil Right’s movement. When we sing it together, we retell the story of strength in the face of injustice, honoring those who fought then and gaining strength for ourselves now.
One of my favorite composers is Pablo Sosa, who wrote “Heaven is Singing for Joy” and “This is the Day.” Songs full of power and praise. Songs that arose from a story of fear and loss, as people in his congregation in Argentinia were “disappeared” and as so many in the country were plunged into poverty. Out of this sorrow, he chose to write “heaven is singing for joy, alleluia, for in your life and in mine is shining the glory of God.” A story of not giving up. A story of not allowing oneself to be defined by economics or fear. A story we often share in song on a Sunday morning, telling each other the beauty we see in each other as children of God!
What song-stories do you know and want to share? What song-stories do you love to tell over and over again. What song-stories send you to your childhood, or comfort you in sorrow, or lifted up your faith when it feels confused or totally absent? What song-stories still teach you new wonderful things? At a particularly sad point in my life, this Navaho prayer was the song that I would sing daily, to remind me of blessings and love when I was having a hard time believing in either:
Now I walk in Beauty
Beauty is before me
Beauty is behind me
Above and below me
In the Foreword to the Justice Choir songbook is this quote; “We sing because in the human voice the sound of a better tomorrow can be heard.” Let’s keep sharing this song-story of a better tomorrow - together!