Singing our Lives

by Stacy Smith

O sing to the Lord a new song; sing to the Lord, all the earth. Sing to the Lord, bless his name; tell of his salvation from day to day. —Psalm 96:1–2

When I was growing up, each Christmas my church held a carol sing. And each year, my father joined two other esteemed members of the congregation to serenade us with the absolute worst rendition of “We Three King” ever sung. On the off chance that these three performers managed to sound even remotely rehearsed, the choir director would deliberately change keys to keep all three of them out of tune. I’m sure that each year, gifted members of our choir offered beautiful renditions of “O Come All Ye Faithful” and “Silent Night” at the annual carol sing. But it is the memory of Big Jim, Jack Ed and Pruitt singing horribly that reminds me of that cozy, Christmasy carol sing.

Advent and Christmas are full of some of our favorite music. Of course, not every Christian tradition embraces the same style, instruments or songs. But singing is more than a cultural expression of what we like to listen to. It’s a way we live out our faith. When a group of theologians set out to describe the practice of the Christian tradition—that is, what Christians actually do in our daily lives—they included singing alongside other practices like keeping Sabbath, forgiving others and providing hospitality.1 Don Saliers, emeritus professor of theology and worship at Emory University, wrote about music and the Christian faith with his daughter, Emily Saliers of the Indigo Girls, in their book, A Song to Sing, A Life to Live: Reflections on Music as Spiritual Practice. They say, “Music begins in our bodies … But our bodies do not only respond to music; they make music … Unless we pay no attention or deliberately suppress our senses, the body is always being touched by music, is always ready to become a musical instrument.”2 Our very heartbeat, our breathing in and out, is a rhythm created by God. Perhaps it is this embodiment of music that compels us as Christians to sing.

On a practical level, singing is an integral part of a health ministry. At the Church Health Center, people ask us how to start a health ministry. Often our response is, if you sing at your church, then you already have a health ministry. Congregational singing often means community and connectivity, but it also includes breathing deeply and standing tall. When we think differently about why we sing, and realize that singing is a part of how we celebrate God’s glory, we come to realize that singing is not just a performance. It’s not reserved only for the talented singers. Everyone, even the “We Three Kings,” can make a joyful noise to God.

This Christmas, find a new way to make a joyful noise to God. Gather a group for a carol sing at your home, or gather up a walking group to do some old-fashioned caroling. If you enjoy singing, practice your faith by learning a new song or trying a new instrument. If you’re a “wise man” yourself, take a moment each day to hum or sing in your heart, worrying less about how you sound and more about how you feel when your body makes music. Focus on the healthy benefits of singing: finding community in a choir, practicing some deep breathing each day, or even making the commitment to stop smoking.

However you sing your life this Christmas, find a way to sing to the Lord a new song; sing to the Lord, all the earth.


1 Practicing our Faith: A Way of Life for Searching People, Dorothy C. Bass, editor. Published by Jossey-Bass, 1997.
A Song to Sing, A Life to Live: Reflections on Music as Spiritual Practice, Don Saliers and Emily Saliers. Published by Jossey-Bass, 2004. p. 21-22

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