While I live will I praise the LORD; I will sing praises unto my God while I have any being.
-- Psalm 146:2
Through my memory I am listening to the sound of many voices from my past. It's odd how the memory of sound holds onto things, how many voices I can still remember, even though it's been many years since I've heard them. Today in particular I'm remembering voices singing, singing in church.
When I was growing up, there was a woman at my church. I don't really know what was wrong, but she could not articulate words, she could only make some sounds. She sat near the front of the church, and during the songs she always sang right along, despite not being able to form the words. Just sounds, which of course sometimes could get the teenagers tickled, but true praise to God, how beautiful her voice must sound to him.
At this same church, there was a boy, a little older than me, who had Downs Syndrome. His family brought him to every church activity, and he was included in everything possible, from taking up the offering, to public prayer, to singing in the congregation. To my knowledge, both these people still faithfully attend that church, and just their presence has been an encouragement to many others over the years, reminders that there is room in the body of Christ for them and for us.
I also remember lots of old ladies, almost deaf (my great-grandmother was one of them), with their white or silver hair tied up in a bun, and their floral dresses and big clip-on earrings and sensible shoes, and their smiles for the children and their faithfulness, despite poverty and deafness and loneliness. I can hear their crackly voices even now. Most of them are long gone by now to their heavenly home, but in churches all over others rise up (or age up) to take their place. And one day, if God so wills, I will be one of them:)
After I was married and moved away, I attended a different church, and there I remember different voices singing. I loved this church because everyone did sing. For a while I had gone to a church where, although close to a thousand people might be there, you couldn't hear anyone around you make a sound during the hymn. I don't know if it was considered bad form, or they were all self-conscious, but hymns are there for singing, aren't they? In fact, church is one of the few places where we regular people are actually supposed to sing, it's part of our worship.
Anyway, in the church where everyone DID sing, the pastor himself would stand up front and sing heartily to the Lord. He had a pretty good voice, but it is his heartiness that most sticks with me and that I most appreciated. It gave permission to all of us to sing just as heartily as he, to "make a joyful sound." And for the most part, that's what the congregation did.
I think for my husband some of the best times of singing have been when he has been in a congregation of men -- mostly pastors -- and that roomful of male voices lifted up in praise to God has been a balm to his soul.
My church now is small. Sometimes the singing is loud, but sometimes not, depending on how many people are there and how self-conscious they are. And I have teenagers, and I have found to my shock that they don't like hearty singing, especially from their mother. So I have tried -- unsuccessfully -- not to be an embarrassment to them. But I long for the day in heaven when we can sing -- without self-consciousness, without second-guessing our motives -- with abandon to God Himself, when our tongues will not be able to keep silence but must burst forth in praise.