A long time ago, a popular magazine published a short test for people who were worried that they might be depressed. One of the questions was “Do you whistle?” And if yes, “Have you stopped whistling?” It seems that in general, people who whistle are happy people. Though at first , I thought this was a silly question, I have noticed in my own life, while not a big whistler, when I am stressed out, I do stop whistling and humming.
“Sing with Joy to God our Help” is today’s Psalm refrain and it got me thinking about Saint Augustine’s thought that singing is “praying twice.” I have always thought that the Negro Spirituals prove this point so well. Spirituals teach us that indeed song can most fully express the deepest sorrow of our soul and were the prayer of a people who believed that always in God there is hope—nothing that life throws at us will be greater than God’s love. Recently, a friend‘s comment about another song from the American Christian tradition brought this to life once more.
I gathered with some of the folks with whom I lived when I was a doctoral student in Rome. One friend, Lynda is just a year past her final treatment for breast cancer. I had not seen Lynda for more than three years and so you can imagine how great it was to see her with a full head of hair, looking so healthy and feeling so good. We were gathered for a colloquium and retreat and the person coordinating music asked if we had any song requests for liturgy. I suggested How Can I Keep From Singing. Lynda leaned over and said “That is one of the songs I downloaded on my Ipod during treatment. As you might guess we shared a few tears as we sang “No fear can shake my inmost calm while to that rock I’m clinging…”
For a song I have always loved, it now has even more meaning knowing that it was part of Lynda’s prayer as she entrusted herself and her family to God’s care. Do you have a song that you sing with joy to God our Help?
Note: While this group of young people in the video may not be professional, they sound like the way a congregation would sing this at Mass!