Tuesday, April 26, 2011

A Sounding Image

In the Jan 11 issue of Christian Century, Steven Guthrie wrote a short article with the fantastic title "United we sing."  It is condensed from a chapter in the book Resonant Witness: Conversations between Music and Theology which is winging its way to me!

The martyrdom of Ignatius of Antioch
 I have been feeling my way towards the importance of congregational singing for the last five years. I recently wrote   "American congregations need to rediscover congregational singing as a constitutive practice and discipline of the Church that unites a community of dissimilar people in singing their 'great Redeemer’s praise.'"

It is exciting and reassuring to know I am not the first person to think this. In his article, Guthrie quotes Ignatius of Antioch: "In your concord and harmonious love, Jesus Christ is sung. . . [So] become a choir, that being harmonious in love, and taking up the song of God in unison, ye may with one voice sing to the Father through Jesus Christ."

Guthrie roots his argument in his exegesis of Ephesians 5:18-21. Paul follows up his command to "be filled with the Spirit" with five injunctions:
  1. speaking to one another with psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs
  2. singing
  3. making melody to the Lord in your hearts
  4. giving thanks to God the Father
  5. Be subject to one another
"Three of the five activities have to do with music, which is extraordinary if we think of singing only in terms of emotion," Guthrie writes. "But if singing is a sounding image of the unified church, the connection makes a great deal of sense. The unified church is-like Jesus-the temple of the Holy Spirit, the place on earth filled with God's glory."

So I am with St. Paul, Ignatius of Antioch and Guthrie in believing that congregational singing is a constitutive ecclesiological practice of the Church. We need to relearn how--or develop new ways -- to sing the same psalms, hymns and spiritual songs together in the same place at the same time.