Why sing in church?

St. Augustine is remembered for having said, “He who sings prays twice.”  Though I can’t find it in his writings, there’s something true about this quotation.  Singing is proven both to lift ones mood and to enhance one’s ability to remember the words they’re saying—an embarrassing amount of my memory is dedicated to all the songs from Disney’s Little Mermaid and Beauty and the Beast.

Even more so when we are singing to and about God, we are open to the way that God can use the words we’re saying to encourage us, convict us, inspire us, and energize us.  When we join together in the hymns, the psalms, and in spiritual songs, we call out to God both as individuals and corporately, inviting God to change our outlook on life and to dig himself deeper into our minds, hearts, and imaginations.

I’m always struck by the Sanctus – “Holy, Holy, Holy…” which we sing and pray together at the beginning of the Eucharistic Prayer; it’s a song that’s recorded in Scripture and as we say it in the service, it’s the song that angels and archangels and all the company of heaven sing to God continually.

What a stunning thought, that we, standing here in Columbia, South Carolina, join with all these creatures and with people throughout space and time, worshipping God through song.

One of the striking things about peoples’ accounts of near-death experiences is that they almost always mention that they heard singing.  What if our singing hymns on Sunday mornings bring us closer to God, and to heaven?

Psalm 102

“a prayer of one afflicted, when faint and pleading before the Lord.” (prescript NRSV)

Psalms offer words for us to pray when we have none. They offer language for us to use when we’re not quite sure what to say, and are perhaps feeling empty or exhausted (or jubilant! or overflowing!). Psalm 102 offers a narrative: the first half describes in painful, vivid detail the condition of the supplicant, “my bones burn” (v. 3), “I lie awake. I am like a lonely bird on the housetop” (v.7), “I… mingle tears with my drink” (v.9). The last few verses move toward hope–recognizing that God remains no matter what circumstances may prevail in the life of the author (or pray-er) and their environment. Not only does God remain no matter what, but he promises rescue, redemption, resurrection, and blessing.

Jerusalem and Zion loom large in this psalm (“You will rise up and have compassion on Zion” v. 13; “For the LORD will build up Zion” v.16; v. 21); how do they reveal what God promises and what he’s doing? Jerusalem and Zion are the Promised Land–even when God’s people are in exile and diaspora, these places are held up as the site to which we will one day return. They are sort of like Heaven–they’re the place at the end of time where all things will be put in order again. So this psalm has a very long view–waiting for God to bring restoration to His people; they wait for peace and for the rebuilding of their true home.

There are sometimes geographical places, and chronological moments in time in our lives that give us a little taste or feeling of what this kind of togetherness and homeyness might be like. For me, that place is Durham, North Carolina.


I went there this past week to witness a friend’s ordination (see yesterday’s post), and while I was there, I drove around in circles to visit all my dear old familiar places. I drove around to see and be in the midst of everyday places–not even “dear old” ones, but that one stoplight that takes 2 minutes to turn (I’ve timed it with eager soccer & ballet class attendees in my backseat), and that stretch of road I’ve driven thousands of times to get downtown or to get to the mall. I remember thinking to myself, “man, these lucky trees! they LIVE here their whole lives!” (how silly I get, driving down the highway…)

One of the verses of Psalm 102 spoke deeply to me on my visit. In the NRSV, it goes, “for your servants hold (Zion’)s stones dear, and have pity on its dust.” (v.14) The 1979 Book of Common Prayer renders it, “for your servants love her very rubble.” The BCP version alludes to the destructed state of the Promised Land, but both get at the feeling that even the dirt and the bricks and the trees of a place might bring one to awe and silence at their precious place in your life.

What places or experiences have felt to you like a “thin spot” or a glimpse or fleeting feeling of Heaven and Home?