My favourite concert of all time was an Arcade Fire concert in 2007. To this day, I can close my eyes and my heart fills with joy at the memory of it. The venue was Deer Lake Park in late May. It was as dusk; the sun was slipping behind trees made made golden-green by the evening light. The moon hung in a clear sky and the air was full of springtime and cut grass. But while the beauty of the scene was a gift, the emotion that remains with me almost a decade later was the feeling of absolute exultation as 10,000 people lifted their voices in unison. In the midst of that warm night, it seemed as though collectively we were the song of one mighty, lyrical creature. And in the midst of singing my little heart out, I found myself thanking God for this moment of harmony and my song became worship.
Interestingly enough, I was not the only one who felt like this. Googling the date of the concert (almost 10 years ago! How is that possible?), I found Amy O’Brien’s review in the Vancouver Sun. I was fascinated to read the opening sentence: “For those who find spirituality in the beauty of a dusky sky or by being swallowed in a massive wall of harmonious sound, Thursday night’s Arcade Fire show at Burnaby’s Deer Lake Park was likely a deeply religious experience.” I find this language fascinating. How does the power of beauty and music bypass our conscious thought and direct us to God?
Recently, there have been rather a lot of studies on the social, physical, and emotional impacts of singing together. A team from Oxford’s Department of Experimental Psychology explored questions about communal singing by studying participants in classes run by a charity that provides adult education in Britain. The organization offered three types of classes; crafts, creative writing, and singing. The study looked the effect each of these classes had on social isolation. Right from the outset of the seven month courses, the singing classes reported stronger bonds between class members and a decrease in feelings of isolation. This feeling of community continued to increase far more in the singing group than in any other. The author of the study concluded that “Singing is found in all human societies and can be performed to some extent by the vast majority of people. It’s been suggested that singing is one of the ways in which we build social cohesion when there isn’t enough time to establish one-to-one connections between everyone in a group.”
Other studies explore the topic even further showing that regular group singing has a positive impact on both our mental and physical health. It can help us deal with depression or increase our heart health. It turns out that people who sing as a group even synchronize their heartbeats! What beautiful picture of unity!
We are created to sing together and in doing so, we both worship the one who gave us the capacity for song and increase our sense of unity and belonging.
Consider the last time you sang with other people somewhere other than church. A concert? The national anthem at a hockey game? Interestingly, one of the common comments in many of these studies is that with the decline of regular church attendance, we have have lost one of the main venues for communal singing. Maybe Scripture is onto something when it tells us to praise God in song. When we are encouraged to “address one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart,” we are being instructed to do what we are created to do. We are created to sing together and in doing so, we both worship the one who gave us the capacity for song and increase our sense of unity and belonging.
Worship, as is the case in many areas of our life in the body of Christ, is both upwards and outwards. The upwards is easy to understand; we sing to God out of our gratitude, our love, our understanding of his great mercy and faithfulness. Sometimes we even sing out of our sadness and pain. The outwards nature of worship, however, can be more difficult to engage with. The act of adding our voice to what is being sung strengthens the song we lift in agreement to God. It strengthens our connection with one another.
Each of us has a voice. It can be easy to demur at this point, saying, “oh, I really can’t sing very well,” or more colourfully, “I can’t carry a tune in a bucket.” This is not the point of singing together! One of the many things I love about my parents is that, growing up, they embodied for me what it means to worship. My mom is an excellent musician; she was the church pianist for much of my childhood and I love the memories of her practicing at night after I’d gone to bed.
My dad is not … equally gifted in this area. While he doesn’t always hit the right note while singing in church, my dad knows that when the congregation lifts their voices in song, his voice is included – whole-hearted and joyful. His song is his gift to God and is his participation in worship. Indeed, while we might think our lack of skill or talent is an impediment, it’s actually our lack of willingness to add our voice to the song that impedes those around us from participating fully. There are no auditions in congregational singing, and “making a joyful noise” is far more important than creating perfect harmony.
So let’s sing our little hearts out. We lift up our lives to God, imperfect as they are; let’s learn to view our imperfect songs as precious offerings as well. In his great goodness, God has given us not only our own voices, but also the voices of our brothers and sisters to illustrate the bonds of our fellowship and unity under God. Our worship is a gift to God and a gift to one another. So belt it out! Sing like your voice is an essential part of the mighty eternal chorus of saints and angels.
Because it is.
“Lift up your voice!
Lift up your voice, rejoice!
Again, I say, rejoice!”
editor: Andrea Parkhill
Photo: Quinn Dombrowski,“Singing”