Those carolers at your door or in your church have something in common – singing together inspires and connects us. It is a healing activity.
Choir singer Stacy Horn, rediscovered her love of singing when suffering from anxiety and desperately looking for a way to stop the destructive behaviour she was engaged in, including binge drinking and unhealthy relationships. She remembered how joyful and whole she felt years earlier, singing in her school choir as a child. This prompted her to start looking for a choir to join.
She found her choir home in a church. For Horn, singing in a choir brought her a view of herself as divinely loved. That perspective steadily moved her away from a damaging lifestyle and the anxiety that had accompanied it.
Research shows that singing together is good for us physically, but as Horn’s story shows, it goes far deeper than bodily effects such as lower blood pressure. Horn discovered that it can transform how we think about ourselves and others.
Singing together brings out the listener in us and a sense of spiritual harmony that is innate. We rediscover qualities that we might have thought were lost, such as brotherly love, peace, patience, innocence and joy. Singing sacred music feeds us spiritually, brings our gentler nature to the surface and enables us to tune in to our connection to a God who is Love.
Some sacred songs have transforming stories behind them that many of us might be unaware of. For example, the story behind the carol, ‘Silent Night’. This year celebrates 200 years of singing this hymn. It was born 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 because theirs had broken and they could not afford repairs. As the organ was an integral part of their church life, especially for the Christmas service, its loss was deeply felt.
One evening, the pastor, Josef Mohr, went for a walk. As he looked down on 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 the musician could compose music for his poem. 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. It united them in love for God and each other.
This hymn, ‘Silent Night’, has been translated into over 100 languages and is sung in communities around the world. It 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 hymns that tell 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 has its source in a God who is Love.
And when we voice it together in unison, it is a prayer that can bring individuals and communities a truer, more stable sense of unity, peace and healing.
May you experience the joy and love of singing with your community this Christmas.
Photo attribution: By Rpb2012 – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0. https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=39967272