Merry Christmas and a Blessed New Year!
Listen to a recent Sunday Sermon: "A Wisdom-Free
1 Kings 2:10-12, 3:3-14; Psalm 111; Ephesians
5:15-20; John 6:51-58
How Can I Keep from Singing?
When I was growing up in the 60s my mother
believed that piano lessons were an essential part of a child’s
education. My sister (4 years older) took to the lessons quite well
and soon was performing honorably in recitals. During the Christmas
season she was soon accompanying us from the piano as we sang
Christmas carols. She also mastered “Songs of the Civil War” and a
book of Stephen Foster songs. Young people may not believe it, but
at family gatherings we would sit around the piano and listen to my
sister play and sing songs like “Camptown Races” and “Eatin’ Goober
Peas.” My sister was a
“star” at these gatherings.
By contrast, my piano lessons did not progress
so smoothly. When were lived in Schweinfurt, Herr Hoffman spent most
of the lessons hitting my knuckles with a ruler. When we moved by to
Arlington, I struggled mightily to prepare “Animal Crackers in My
Soup” for recital with meager results. Finally, Mrs. Raughtabaugh
(spelling unknown) told my mother that, “maybe little Mebane (me),
could find a better use of this time than taking piano lessons.” I
turned my time attention towards my ChemCraft lab set and soon found
that burning and blowing things up was a lot more fun than playing
If I couldn’t play the piano like my sister, at
least I could contribute to church and home by singing. Nope. My
father, who was well known in church for his resonant singing voice,
soon ruled that I “couldn’t carry a tune in the bucket.” Through my
whole educational history, I was never asked to be in a choir or
singing group. Of course, I never auditioned. I sang in the car to
the radio, but never where anyone could hear me. One time, I tried
singing to a college girlfriend, Lucille Rita Shimerman, but the
results were less than romantic. I think for the next 20 years, the
only songs I sang in public were “Happy Birthday” and the “Star
Spangled Banner” (at White Sox games). Since I only went to church
on Christmas and Easter, I didn’t have much chance to do any hymn
When I returned to my Christian faith almost 20
years ago, my life changed in many ways. What surprised me the most
was that my freedom in Christ was a freedom to
sing! As a renewed
Christian, I picked up that hymnal and sang my heart out. I was (and
remain) only semi-trained. I can barely read music. But from the
start, I was loud (painfully loud to some) and I was joyful. God was
doing a new thing in me. I think it was in about the second year of
my renewed church life that a gentleman (the husband of the Pastor
of Hope Presbyterian Church in St. Louis, now long closed) in the
pew in front of me turned to me and asked me why I was not in a
choir. This was in a church too small to have a choir.
From that day on, I was looking for a church
home where I could join the choir. I was soon a member of the choir
at 1st Presbyterian Church of University City. About half
of the members of this choir were professional-level singers who
performed with the Saint Louis Symphony. Because of my lack of
skill, I struggled and I sometimes despaired, but I did not give up.
Since then I have been a member of the choir at Christ Episcopal
Church, a sometime member of the Evangelical Church choir, and have
joined the Messiah choir and the Easter cantata choir based out of
Trinity Lutheran. I took one set of voice lessons, but I am still
only semi-skilled in sight-reading. I have only done 3 solos in my
entire singing career. I do my best with a strong section leader,
and I am a slow learner. I love to sing.
During my life in the church, the words of the
hymns have taught me as much or more about God than have Sunday
school and Bible study. In my experience those words really reach my
mind and heart when I sing them rather than simply listen to others
singing. I can sometimes listen to secular music without singing
along. But whenever and wherever I hear Christian music, I want to
During the almost 8 years I have been attending
Evangelical Church, I have always enjoyed listening to Bev and the
choir, singing in the choir, and singing along with the
congregation. All aspects of the service—the responsive Psalms, the
Scripture, the prayers, the Creed, the sermon, the benediction—are
meaningful for me, but the singing is part of service that I fully
connect with. Singing is the part of church that involves the whole
person: mind, spirit, and body. It is the part of church where I can
“get over myself” and give myself up to Christ.
During the second half of 2015 we have been
blessed with a wonderful visitor, Annamarie Engelhard. In her gentle
and quiet way, she has had a tremendous impact on our choir and
congregation. With our Christmas cantata, Bev and Annamarie have
shown us that we can do much more than we ever imagined. In 2016
Annamarie will be moving on to start her music therapy career. We
will miss her greatly. Her brief time with us has reminded us of how
important singing is to our congregation. Let’s prayerfully consider
how we can move forward to continue to develop our music ministry.
We can be confident that if we are obedient to God’s Will, he will
send us the people we need to keep us singing.
The hymn, “How Can I Keep from Singing,” with
lyrics by an unknown author, first published in 1868, says it all:
life flows on in endless song;
the sweet, tho' far-off hymn
hails a new creation;
all the tumult and the strife
the music ringing;
finds an echo in my soul—
can I keep from singing?
tho' my joys and comforts die?
Lord my Saviour liveth;
tho' the darkness gather round?
in the night he giveth.
storm can shake my inmost calm
to that refuge clinging;
Christ is Lord of heaven and earth,
can I keep from singing?
my eyes; the cloud grows thin;
the blue above it;
day by day this pathway smooths,
first I learned to love it,
peace of Christ makes fresh my heart,
fountain ever springing;
things are mine since I am his—
can I keep from singing?