Sunday's Great Challenge
The great challenge of Sunday morning is so subtle you probably ignore it. It doesn't come from the alarm clock, which asks you to begin your life. It doesn't come from family or friends, who ask you the meaning of life. It doesn't come from the homilist, who asks you to reform your life.
No, it comes from the song leader, who says, "Please join in singing the opening hymn". The book of songs lies heavy in the rack.
"They want me to find #59? They want me to sing?
There are many excuses not to sing. Perhaps you've used some of these yourself: 1) I never sing. This is like, "I don't do windows." In an age of specialization, you have to set limits. You get along perfectly well at work, in the marketplace, and at home without singing the refrain of "You Are There," so why start in church? 2) I don't know that song. This excuse is popular with people at home with the familiar. They exhibit withdrawal symptoms when their TV shows get canceled, and they never try to cook with a recipe that calls for more than three ingredients. 3) I can't stand that song leader. Ad hominum arguments are never logical but always popular. Have you sworn off shopping at a store because of a rude clerk? Have you written off a restaurant with a sloppy waiter? This excuse might appeal to you. 4) I can't read music. This argument holds that musicians live in a secret world and speak with their own vocabulary. Since musicians are eccentric anyway, you may not want to be mistaken for one.
However, there are also many reasons for taking the Sunday challenge from your local song leader. Consider the following: 1) Singing expresses our community. Any song - a hymn, a psalm, an acclamation -- achieves what we come for: expressing our faith in community. Only music can draw our many voices together in one common voice, united in rhythm, pitch, and feeling. 2) Singing enhances religious experience. Like the rhythms on a dance floor, like the sounds of a live concert, music touches the spirit. To give ourselves over to singing is to let go of what keeps us selfish, and to involve our spirit with others. 3) Singing is beautiful. Yes, even your singing. People find God in beauty: in sunsets, in oceans, in fresh baked bread, in the beloved. Music is art, and its beauty reveals God. 4) Singing is prayer. Have you felt an emotion you couldn't put into words? Music may help. Even as we sing the words, the music itself is a prayer without words. Music has emotion, spirit, depth, and life.
If you find singing at Mass difficult, here are some practical suggestions: 1) Understand what you sing. Take some time to reflect on the words of the songs: They are our prayers, too. When you know the meaning you will sing with understanding. 2) Wonder why we're singing this song. Liturgists take time to choose the songs they invite us to sing. Ask yourself why this music may have been chosen for today's celebration. It will enrich your prayer. 3) Feel the spirit of the music. Composers write music to express how they feel about the text. Feel the spirit of the music beneath the words. 4) Listen as you sing. The sound of others singing will inspire you to sing, too. The song of the assembly is a unique religious event in our week.
Next time you walk into church, beware the song leader. You will soon hear the great challenge of your day. It's a challenge to love your neighbor with your voice, a challenge to let yourself go, a challenge to create something beautiful, a challenge to pray.