The following piece is written in dialogue between PaulaMangumSheridan and Beverly Howard. The initials PS indicate Paula’s words, while the initials BH indicate Beverly’s words.
PS: During my junior year of college, I interned as a social work student at a residential facility for young adults with severely limited developmental and physical abilities. Many residents used wheelchairs for mobility and needed support for dressing, eating and other tasks. While their test scores suggested intellectual deficiencies, the residents taught me that spoken language was only one way of communicating humor, wisdom, frustration and other human emotions and experiences.
I accompanied a group of residents to their physical, speech and other therapies.My favorite hangout was the music therapy sessions.Magical things happened there.
Our singing, playing percussion instruments and moving with rhythm evoked laughter and celebration. When the music therapist discovered it was my birthday, he asked the group to sing “Happy Birthday” to me.He strummed his ukulele and cued the group. Suddenly, a young man who was usually silent burst into a passionate rendition of the birthday song. He emphasized the phrase “Dear Paula” and ended with a broad smile.
The music therapist was astonished to see a withdrawn resident sing from his heart. Unfortunately, I never heard him sing again. His connection with music was brief but priceless. It was the best birthday gift I could hope for.
“Music is a mystery, science and tool.”
Music is a mystery, science and tool. Music evokes memory, soothes sorrow, frightens us and gives us hope.It restores and regenerates our brains. But unfortunately, it also can dominate our brains like addicting chemicals. Music persuades, influences, inspires and discomforts us through advertising, political campaigns and other mediums. Sounds, rhythms and lyrics linger in our memories.
Music also is an integral part of worship in many faith traditions. The Hebrew Bible tells us David soothed Saul’s tormented spirit by playing the harp.Sacred texts document music as integral in celebrations, mourning, repentance and thanksgiving. Music links us to our past, expresses our current experiences and gives us hope for a meaningful future.
How do the words we sing in worship shape our understanding of God? What messages about God do we sing to ourselves and others in worship? We will explore how hymn texts influence our faith.
Q: Do words we use in worship affect our spiritual health?
PS: We use words in worship and congregational music that shape our spiritual health.Our worship behaviors, words and music can invite or exclude us and others. We don’t walk into church with an empty slate. Instead, we carry joy and burdens of previous experiences that shape the present, even if we aren’t consciously aware.
Paula Mangum Sheridan
Our brains encode information explicitly and implicitly.Explicit memory is recall, the action of intentionally remembering something stored in our minds. For example, you use explicit memory when you swap tales about forbidden high school antics with friends.You know you are retrieving a memory from past experiences.
Implicit memory encodes emotions, sensations and actions without our conscious awareness. Implicit memory is the only form of memory for the first 18 months of life and begins in the last trimester of pregnancy. Implicit memory helps create mental models, associating our feelings with specific activities or sensations.
We bring implicit and explicit memories with us when we participate in worship.Music in worship can evoke feelings and memories from past experiences, both positive and negative.We may strongly react to words and music and not know why.That’s implicit memory.
If we have been welcomed and loved in our church experiences, especially as children, we are more likely to associate new worship experiences with affirmation.None of us enter God’s house with empty hands or hearts.We carry implicit memories with us that prime our perceptions of new experiences.This awareness can help us be more intentional about the ways we design and implement worship services.
Q: Can words we sing in our hymns harm us spiritually? If so, how can those words be harmful?
BH: Most definitely!Hymns work powerfully in us as part of our spiritual formation and faith identity. On hearing or singing a hymn, we may recall singing it in the church we attended as a child, at a parent’s memorial service, at a wedding or any spiritual milestones. We hear stories of Alzheimer’s patients who have forgotten family members but can sing every stanza of hymns they learned as children. Depending on the texts of hymns and spiritual songs imprinted on our souls, they may harm us, because a text can exclude, shame or wound us.
Through sustained or repetitive singing, we internalize texts, which may promote a sense of unworthiness or even self-loathing in some people. Some hymns of atonement use strong language in denouncing our sin, describing humanity (us) as being “vile,” “guilty,” “wretched,” or having “leprous souls.”
Q: What are some examples?
BH: One example from classical hymnody is found in the original text of “Alas! And Did My Savior Bleed,” by Isaac Watts (1674-1748). He asks this rhetorical question in the first stanza: “Alas! and did my Savior bleed, and did my Sovereign die, would he devote that sacred head to such a worm as I?
When I was a child, my church frequently sang this text either as Watts’ original hymn or as the gospel adaptation “At the Cross.” I pictured a worm as a creepy, crawly, disgusting creature, and I could not imagine myself as such. However, Watts was trying to illustrate in his 18th-century cultural and theological contexts the contrast between Christ’s splendor and humanity’s sinfulness. Continually singing of ourselves as “worms” may emphasize and internalize our unworthiness in a way that denies our being created in God’s image.
“Eighteenth century poets used ‘worm’ as an archaic term for Satan.”
A deeper concern is understanding what a “worm” meant to Watts. Eighteenth century poets used “worm” as an archaic term for Satan. Did Watts intend for people to consider themselves evil or demonic? Some editors of modern hymnals have altered the text to read: “Would he devote that sacred head for sinners such as I?”
This textual edit still identifies our bent toward sinning, but without debasing our self-worth.
Q: Are there any older hymn texts that approach sin, sinning and the sinner with more compassion?
BH: Yes. “Come, Ye Sinners, Poor and Needy” is another 18th-century text that, for the most part, describes sinners more compassionately as poor, weak, wounded, sick, sore, thirsty, weary, heavy-laden. However, the original first line does read “Come, ye sinners, poor and wretched” and the third stanza refers to being “ruined by the Fall.”
By the 19th century, there is a theological shift from a wrathful, angry God toward understanding God as more loving. Fanny Crosby (1820-1925), the gospel hymn writer, used language to attract people to the gospel. In her hymns, Crosby referred to sinners as “lost,” “wandering,” “wounded,” “weary,” “oppressed,” all of which are biblical metaphors.
“Rescue the Perishing” is perhaps one of Crosby’s best-known hymns and was inspired by her work in New York City missions. There Crosby encountered humanity in all conditions: abused, addicted, homeless, impoverished. Throughout this text, she uses compassionate rather than condescending, judgmental language about those in need. Perhaps the most poignant, tender language appears in the third stanza:
Down in the human heart, crushed by the tempter,
feelings lie buried that grace can restore;
touched by a loving heart, wakened by kindness,
chords that are broken will vibrate once more.
Another example is “There is a Balm in Gilead,” a spiritual from the Black church that offers the hope of healing and restoration through Christ, the Great Physician. In the refrain of this spiritual, the “sin-sick soul” can be healed.The stanzas offer encouragement. Wordsmiths must walk a fine line between describing a soul as sick vs. denouncing the whole person.
Q. How can we sing about sin and the sinner?
BH: Hymn writers discuss and weigh the language we sing very carefully. The Hymn Society of the United States and Canada includes members who are hymn writers, theologians, tunesmiths and church musicians. Conversations within this body involve serious discussions about our language in congregational song.
At its recent conference, plenary speaker Mikako Ehara, director of church music for the Japan Baptist Convention, advocated for hymn writers and worship planners to reflect on the language sung in hymns to describe sin and the sinner. She warned against condescending language that sets up “us vs. them” and to avoid language that objectifies the other.
Some older texts that address humanity’s bent to sinning with humility and contrition include “Ah, Holy Jesus,” “Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing,” “God of Grace and God of Glory,” “Love Divine, All Loves Excelling.”
“Many modern hymn writers grapple with the challenge of writing texts that do not objectify or debase but yet acknowledge our sinfulness.”
Many modern hymn writers grapple with the challenge of writing texts that do not objectify or debase but yet acknowledge our sinfulness. One approach has been to write new hymns that recognize or identify the sin without objectifying or stereotyping “the sinner” by using debasing descriptions.
For example, “In an Age of Twisted Values,” a hymn by Martin Leckenbush (b. 1962), is a corporate prayer of confession for the healing of our nation. He candidly names the numerous sins of twisted values, greed, robbing the poor and weak, discrimination, prejudice, cruelty, disobedience and failure in relationships.
PS: We benefit from theological messages in music, song and other mediums that distinguish between our behavior and identities.We are not bad people. We make poor choices. We live in the tension of our imperfections and God’s infinite love.We may stumble and limp, but we are still in the race.
Our hymns can illuminate our limitations and the grace that accompanies and adores us just as we are.Grace includes loving others and receiving love from others. Jesus implored us to remove the beam from our eyes so we could see without denial and projection.He also taught us to love ourselves as we love others. Hymns can help us flourish in the sacred vulnerability of loving others and allowing ourselves to be loved.
A final word
PS: Congregational gathering and singing were not possible during the early months of COVID lockdown. I remember weeping the first time I heard choral music during a virtual service.I cried again when assembled after months of online services. I was grateful to hear the pipe organ on a televised service. I was elated to feel the pipe organ and my congregation singing, sensing music with all of my body, just as the resident did during a birthday song many years ago.
We can tenderly examine our worship styles with fresh eyes and beginners’ minds.Routines can provide predictability and comfort amid uncertain times.But they need not constrict us to practices that diminish God’s creativity and wonder. Our worship rhythms also can birth new ideas and practices that make room at God’s table for us all.
Paula Mangum Sheridan, professor emerita of social work, taught at Whittier College and more recently at Loma Linda University. She has partnered with social work educators in Denmark and Finland to explore global social work practice. She is a licensed clinical social worker and supports voter accessibility and the rights of people without homes in her community. She is a member of All Saints Episcopal Church in Pasadena, Calif.
Beverly A. Howard lives in Fort Worth, Texas. She is a retired university music professor, former editor of The Hymn: A Journal of Congregational Song, and member of hymnal committees that prepared Glory to God: The Presbyterian Hymnal and Celebrating Grace: Hymnal for Baptist Worship. She is one of the collaborating authors of Sing with Understanding: An Introduction to the Theology of Christian Congregational Song (2022) with Martin V. Clarke, C. Michael Hawn, and Geoffrey Moore. She is a member of First Presbyterian Church in Fort Worth
Yes, I like the ‘old’ hymns too, but not the ones you may think | Opinion by John Cotton
Hymns for a Lifetime: Poetry added to music makes not only hymns, but memories
Hooray for the hymnal! | Opinion by David Garrard
What are the spiritual benefits of singing? ›
The act of singing uses both part's of the brain, therefore it can educate us and teach us about the gospel of Jesus Christ. Singing connects us emotionally. Songs of celebration have the power to lead us to dance. Songs of lament have the power to lead us to tears.What is the gift of singing in the Bible? ›
Ephesians 5:19 says, “singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart.” It is to him and about him that we sing! Singing has such a unique way of bringing your heart, soul, mind, and strength together to focus entirely and completely on God.Does the Bible command us to sing? ›
The Bible does not say “Thou Shalt Sing” but… it does admonish us to sing!  Oh sing to the LORD a new song; sing to the LORD, all the earth!  Praise the LORD!What Scripture talks about singing hymns? ›
In both Ephesians 5:19 and Colossians 3:16, Paul commands gathered believers to sing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs, thereby “singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart” (Eph. 5:19) and “teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom” (Col. 3:16).Why is singing so healing? ›
Endorphins are released when we sing which help to promote positive feelings. This is especially true when we sing with other people. Group singing also induces the production of oxytocin (the bonding hormone). This can reduce stress, anxiety and increase feelings of trust and well-being.Is singing a form of healing? ›
Research has shown that singing can be good for you on many levels. It may help lower stress, boost immunity and lung function, enhance memory, improve mental health, and help you cope with physical and emotional pain.What does Psalms say about singing? ›
Sing to the LORD a new song; sing to the LORD, all the earth. Sing to the LORD, praise his name; proclaim his salvation day after day. Declare his glory among the nations, his marvelous deeds among all peoples. For great is the LORD and most worthy of praise; he is to be feared above all gods.Is singing a gift or learned? ›
Singing is partly innate, and partly a learnt skill. You can be born with vocal tracts that are physiologically sized and shaped to give your voice a more pleasing sound, naturally pathing the way to becoming a singer. But controlling and configuring your vocal muscles in order to sing well is a learnt skill.What does the Bible say about singing in the spirit? ›
The term is derived from the words of Paul the Apostle in 1 Corinthians 14:15, "I will pray with my spirit, but I will pray with my mind also; I will sing praise with my spirit, but I will sing with my mind also".Is singing a form of prayer? ›
''1 Sung praise seems to be God's favorite form of prayer, for the Bible instructs us to sing to the Lord, come into God's presence with singing, make melody to the Lord, and enter God's courts in song. There are some 242 such exhorta- tions in the Old Testament alone.
Is singing a form of worship? ›
Of all the art forms that may be employed in worship, singing is especially corporate. Indeed, it is the art form most suited to expressing the church's unity in the body of Christ. Different voices, different instruments, different parts are blended to offer a single, living, and unified work of beauty.Is singing a gift from God? ›
Someone can sing because of an inborn ability. Most of those who believe in God, believe tha t God created us and all our abilities. So the talent can be a gift from God. Others can train to sing to a level that is better than others or at least better than where their natural talent can take them.Where in the Bible does it say I will sing of your goodness? ›
Psalms 89:1 AMP
I will sing of the goodness and lovingkindness of the LORD forever; With my mouth I will make known Your faithfulness from generation to generation.
Psalm 40: 3 , NIV He put a new song in my mouth, a hymn of praise to our God. Many will see and fear the LORD and put their trust in him. When God puts a song in our heart, our prison walls will become a place of Heavenly commission.What are the benefits of singing praises to God? ›
- Praise lifts your spirit.
- Praise helps you sense God's presence.
- Praise enlarges your perception of God.
- Praise reveals solutions we can't see.
- Praise helps us remember God's blessing.
- Praise enlists God's protection.
- Praise breaks chains and opens doors.
A daily vocal workout will strengthen your vocal cords, increase your vocal range, and enhance the tone of your voice. You should sing for about thirty minutes each day, with your warm-ups completed first. If you don't already have one, work with your voice coach or consider taking voice lessons in Kansas City.What singing does to the soul? ›
When we sing, it releases endorphins in our brain, feel-good hormones associated with pleasure. It also helps reduce hormones that cause stress like cortisol. In a sense, singing is almost like a natural anti-depressant designed to make us happier.
Singing with chronic pain
For example, physiological benefits include improvements to breathing, the respiratory system and muscle tension,47 together with relaxation, increased energy and improved posture and body control. Singing also encourages the release of endorphins which can reduce pain.
Singing increases poise, self-esteem and presentation skills. Singing strengthens concentration and memory. Singing develops the lungs and promotes superior posture. Singing broadens expressive communication.What happens when you sing too much? ›
Chronic vocal fatigue
Our voice therapists recommend that for every 60 minutes of voice use, you need 10 minutes of voice rest. Overuse can damage the vocal cords, and if you often find you have lost your voice by the end of the day or after an hour of singing, your vocal cords may be experiencing tissue damage.
How does singing work in the body? ›
Your vocal cords vibrate to make sound. The vocal cords are small bands of muscle and other tissues inside the voice box (larynx). The air from your lungs makes them vibrate when the edges of the vocal cords come together. This is what makes the sound.What Scripture says about singing in the morning? ›
Psalms 92:1-15 New International Version (NIV)
It is good to praise the LORD and make music to your name, O Most High, proclaiming your love in the morning and your faithfulness at night, to the music of the ten-stringed lyre and the melody of the harp.
Christians worship with music because it is an expression of praise, glory, honor, and reverence to the Lord. The people of God have worshiped this way over the course of history, therefore, Christians today follow in this example.Is Psalm 23 meant to be sung? ›
Psalm 23 is traditionally sung during the third Shabbat meal as well as before the first and second in some of the Jewish communities during the Kiddush. It is also commonly recited in the presence of a deceased person, such as by those keeping watch over the body before burial, and at the funeral service itself.Why are some people naturally good singers? ›
Recent research suggests that the varying shapes and sizes of our vocal folds, pharynx, nasal cavities and even our skull, means that some people can produce a more pleasing natural sound than the rest of us.Are singers born or made? ›
It's important to consider all these factors as this can make the performance that little bit more exciting for the audience! So there you have it – the theory of being “born with it” has been debunked! Amazing singers aren't necessarily born but can be created over time with hours of dedication and practice.Why do some people sing well? ›
Many genetic factors play a role in determining what your vocal cords will be like. In addition, the exact shape and size of your body's natural resonators, such as your mouth, throat, and nasal cavities, will also play a big role in determining what your natural singing voice sounds like.Does singing lift your spirits? ›
Singing, like exercising, can also release endorphins – “the feel-good hormone” –, dopamine and serotonin according to the Ach Group organization for older people. The release of these brain chemicals could lift your spirits and help reduce anxiety too.What is spiritual singing? ›
A spiritual is a type of religious folksong that is most closely associated with the enslavement of African people in the American South. The songs proliferated in the last few decades of the eighteenth century leading up to the abolishment of legalized slavery in the 1860s.How can I hear the voice of the Holy Spirit in my life? ›
- Come to God with your request for guidance. ...
- Wait in silence for God to speak for 10-12 minutes. ...
- Jot down any Scripture, songs, impressions, or pictures God gives you. ...
- Share how God spoke to you with your prayer partners and follow God's will.
What Scripture says about prayer and singing? ›
1 Corinthians 14:15
I will pray with my spirit, but I will also pray with my understanding; I will sing with my spirit, but I will also sing with my understanding.
It is called the "Jesus Prayer", and it consists simply in uttering the single word "Jesus" (or "Lord Jesus", or "Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me, a sinner") in any situation, at any time and place, either aloud or silently.What is religious singing called? ›
liturgical music, also called church music, music written for performance in a religious rite of worship. The term is most commonly associated with the Christian tradition.Can you worship without singing? ›
Singing is a good thing, but it's not a necessary thing for Christian worship. As Colossians 3:16 shows us, the importance of singing for Christians doesn't lie in the music, but in the Word of Christ.Who is God of singing? ›
|Parents||Kashyapa (father) Pradha (mother)|
Read Psalms and lyrics aloud: Psalms were the original worship songs. By reading them aloud, you can use these powerful words as worship in your daily life. Along with reading Psalms, you can read aloud the lyrics of hymns and praise songs, and use them as prayerful worship.Can singing bring you closer to God? ›
Inspiration. President Thomas S. Monson said: “Music can help you draw closer to your Heavenly Father. It can be used to educate, edify, inspire, and unite.”Does singing bring joy? ›
In the same way that exercise boosts endorphin flow, singing also releases the brain's “feel good” chemical - resulting in a sense of euphoria, enhanced immune response, and a natural pain relief. Singing also triggers the release of oxytocin, which helps relieve anxiety and stimulates feelings of trust.What is the gift of your voice? ›
The Center for Digital Storytelling refers to “the gift of voice“, the unique character of what you sound like.What Scripture is the song goodness of God? ›
"1 Oh give thanks to the Lord, for he is good, for his steadfast love endures forever!"
What is the Psalm of God's goodness? ›
God is good because he loves us and wants what's best for us. His goodness is demonstrated through his actions toward us. In fact, we see evidence of God's goodness every day. We see it in the sun rising each morning, in the rain falling from the sky, and in the flowers blooming in our gardens.
In four verses, we repeat the resounding joy of heaven and nature singing together, implying that heaven and nature are different voices. We are joined by field and floods, rocks, hills and plains echoing the sounding joy of heaven and nature singing.Why do we need to sing a song to God by heart? ›
Ephesians 5:19 says, “singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart.” It is to him and about him that we sing! Singing has such a unique way of bringing your heart, soul, mind, and strength together to focus entirely and completely on God.What does it mean to sing with your heart? ›
They have practiced a lot and are singing the best that they can. Even more, they are singing with emotion because they love to sing and express themselves through music. In other words, they are singing with their hearts.What does Psalm 40 verse 3 mean? ›
David was so joyful and appreciative of God's deliverance of him from his enemies that he lifted his voice in a song of praise to the Lord. He shared this praise with his countrymen so that they would reverence the Lord and trust in Him.What are the health benefits of praise? ›
Praise is indeed a potent and restorative tool. It changes us for the better by refocusing our affections, realigning our priorities, and restoring our souls. Our spirit becomes more pliable, open, and receptive to receiving to God's Holy Spirit.What is the power of singing in the spirit? ›
The power to communicate spiritual truth and reality, the ability to connect to the spiritual realm, and the ability to offer oneself as a vehicle for spiritual power, are all part of the spiritual elements of singing.What are three reasons we worship God? ›
From this one incident, we find four reasons for worshiping Jesus Christ. First, we worship Jesus because of his divinity; next, we worship Jesus because of his supremacy; then we worship Jesus because of his humanity; and finally, we worship Jesus because of his humility.What chakra is singing good for? ›
There is a strong connection between the Sacral Chakra and the Throat Chakra -the center of expression-. In singing, the development of this center helps us to enjoy our voice and our expression. It frees up our voice, it helps us express our truth without the blockage of guilt and shame.What are 3 benefits of singing? ›
- Singing makes you feel better. ...
- Singing enhances lung function. ...
- Singing helps you beat stress and relax. ...
- Singing helps improve memory. ...
- Singing builds a sense of community. ...
- Singing lets you express yourself. ...
- Singing can help with pain relief. ...
- Singing boosts your confidence.
What is God's purpose for music? ›
The church's ministry of song is for the glory of God.
96:1). Music is made first of all to the Lord and only secondarily to each other. Music should communicate and express a sense of awe and wonder in the presence of God; it should lead our thoughts toward God rather than toward ourselves.
This theory, which has been dubbed "the Mozart Effect," suggests that listening to classical composers can enhance brain activity and act as a catalyst for improving health and well-being.
Rage is often associated with the 1st Chakra which is located near the base of the spine where the legs meet. The 1st Chakra is the center of survival, and governs the skeletal system and our sense of action.Which chakra is associated with which God? ›
Association with other Yoginis.
Bible Gateway Psalm 96 :: NIV. Sing to the LORD a new song; sing to the LORD, all the earth. Sing to the LORD, praise his name; proclaim his salvation day after day. Declare his glory among the nations, his marvelous deeds among all peoples.What are the 2 most important things to singing? ›
There are many elements to good singing, but the two most important things are breath control and vocal placement. Breath control is the ability to take in a deep breath and use it to sustain a long phrase.What does singing do to the brain? ›
A lot of that comes from the fact that singing releases dopamine, endorphins, and oxytocin. Singing in choirs brings you in contact with many people and builds a community. These two effects can really keep your mood high, and in the long run, that means it could reduce brain fog in many people.How is music a gift from God? ›
Music is a gift of God and part of the created order.
5:13), creation is musical. “All nature sings and round me rings the music of the spheres.” Human music-making participates in the music of creation and reflects the order, beauty, and diversity of God's creation.
Psalms 100:2 says "Worship the Lord with gladness; come before him with joyful songs." Connecting with God through music may manifest in any form, from participating in group worship experiences like a choir to playing a hymn on an instrument or singing favorite praise songs in your assisted living apartment.Why music is so powerful? ›
Music and Mood
Listening to (or making) music increases blood flow to brain regions that generate and control emotions. The limbic system, which is involved in processing emotions and controlling memory, “lights” up when our ears perceive music.