Those carolers at your door or that trip to sing carols at your church have something in common – singing together inspires, and connects us. It is a healing activity.
Stacy Horn discovered this one Christmas when she was suffering from anxiety and desperately looking for a way to stop the destructive behaviours she was engaged in, including binge drinking and unhealthy relationships. She remembered how it felt when singing in her school choir – such a happy and wholesome memory. It prompted her to start looking for a choir to join. After a search, she finally found her choir home in a church. For Horn, singing brought her into contact with new people and new ways of seeing herself. A fresh perspective helped her move away from a damaging lifestyle and the anxiety that had accompanied it.
So what is it that is so healthy about singing together? Research shows it is good for us physically, in that it lowers blood pressure and exercises our hearts and lungs. It also builds qualities such as being a better listener, improved focus and learning and harmonizing with others.
But it goes farther than all of this, as Horn discovered. Singing together brings out a sense of spiritual harmony that is innate to all of us. We begin to see qualities that we might have thought were lost, such as peace, innocence and joy. Singing sacred music brings our gentler nature to the surface and enables us to tune in to our individual and collective connection to the divine.
Some songs, notably carols, have touching, transforming stories behind them that many of us are unaware of. For example, the story behind ‘Silent Night’.
It was born as a carol on December 23 1818 in Austria. The little church of St Nicholas lay in a village near Salzburg. The congregation was facing Christmas without an organ as it had broken due to lack of funds for repairs. As the organ was an integral part of their church life, especially for the Christmas service, its loss was deeply felt by the community.
That evening, a band of travelling actors were scheduled at the church, but because of the broken organ they performed in a local home. Their play was the story of the Nativity. After the performance, the pastor, Josef Mohr, went for a walk. As he looked down on the Christmas card scene of his village, so still and beautiful, he felt both the meaning of the Christmas story and a deep spiritual love for his community.
This love for both the church and the people in the town, reminded him of a poem he had written some years earlier. He hurried to the church’s organist and asked whether he could compose music for it. The resulting composition was written for guitar and shared with the congregation. Suddenly, it did not matter to them that the organ was broken – the ideas in the poem and the singing of it together were what mattered.
This hymn, ‘Silent Night’, translated into over 100 languages and sung in communities around the world, remains one of the most beloved carols ever. It was sung in the trenches of the First World War on Christmas Day, by both sides, inspiring the soldiers to come out of their trenches to play soccer together.
The beauty and inspiration of the story of the nativity speaks to our spiritual centre, telling us that existence is more than the sum total of our individual human activities and problems. It tells of a sacred love that is available to all mankind, through all eternity and in all ways. When we voice it together in unison and harmony, it can’t help but bring individual and community peace and healing.
May you have a peaceful and blessed Christmas