I imagine that most people have moments of utter embarrassment and horror in their jobs. There are two that stick out in my mind that I am willing to share. One was when I vomited all over a woman. She came to the house to talk about a real crisis in her life and I thought I could keep those feelings of nausea at bay. There really is no way to make that okay. When vomit is seeping through your fingers as you are trying to be present, and run to the bathroom — that is just wrong. It is a good reminder to stay in bed when I feel sick.
The other was one of my sweet older homebound ladies. Every week I recorded the worship service and brought the cassettes to her (that dates me a bit). She would listen to them until one day she confided to me that she fast forwarded the parts that sounded like a cat dying. It wasn’t until the ride home that I realized the cat dying was me singing into the microphone. I remembered to turn off my microphone so I didn’t torture Louise, but it was a reminder that music is not a particular gift of mine.
I am a non-musician, but I actually love to sing. It is out of my comfort zone and skill set, but that is one of the gifts of a church. We get to sing together and since I no longer wear a microphone my voice is absorbed in the blend of some really wonderful voices and some voices a lot like mine. I get to sing and it has nothing to do with performing; it’s all about being part of something bigger than myself. I’m still ticked off that no one sings the National Anthem anymore in a way that the crowd can sing along — what is up with that?
There are all kinds of studies about the benefits of singing; it releases endorphins, boosts our immune system, expands our lungs, improves our postures and bonds a community together. We miss out on a lot when we lose the regular practice of singing.
I also realize that for many who have never stepped into a church, it is striking how much singing happens during our worship. We spend as much time singing as we do talking. It’s almost like being in a Broadway musical. Great concepts, ancient words, praises to God, pronouncements of love are all lifted up in melody by a united community. Since we are united in song, then we can disagree on lots of other things. And we do. Our Lutheran tradition is open to many arguments and we are normally okay with that. When we sing together, we don’t have to force community by all thinking alike.
Walking into a land where singing is a primary language can feel incredibly foreign and daunting, especially for a non-singer. I’ve always gone to church so these songs are engraved on my heart and brain, but I know they are awkward to many who are new to them. I don’t feel the need to convince everyone to come to church to sing with us, but I think it is a good question for our community to ask what we are singing. What song fills your heart? Where do you get to sing? Maybe it’s time to start singing a new song.
• Tari Stage-Harvey is the pastor at Shepherd of the Valley Lutheran Church.