“How are you?” How many times in a day do we hear or speak these words? You ask others this question, or you ask the question of other people when you’re at the grocery store, the bank, the doctor’s office, the post office, the gas station.
Let’s say you go up to pay for your bag of chips and a coke, and the cashier asks, “How are you?” Does he really care? Maybe not. Does he even hear you answer, “Fine, how are you?” Often, the question just seems like words…social niceties that don’t really mean much. In fact, if you mention that you’re not doing so well, it’s a bit of a faux-pas. Just smile, say “fine,” and everyone can move about their day.
What if you meet up with a really good friend, someone you know cares about you, and she asks the same question, “How are you?” Do you think she cares? Does she hear your answer? Is she irritated when you say you’ve had better days? They are the same three words, so what’s the difference between the situations? You can tell from the tone of voice. Flat or caring? You can tell from the eye contact or the lack thereof. You can tell from the facial expression. Nonplussed or concerned? You can tell the difference.
We have some wonderful spoken traditions in our faith: the Lord’s Prayer, the creeds, the Communion liturgy, and many others. Sometimes though, our minds are elsewhere. Like the cashier, asking “how are you?” because “that’s what you do”, we just say the words we have memorized, we just go through the motions. When we do that, we’re just engaging in a custom, but without meaning. As with these spoken traditions and liturgies, it is easy to forget the rich meaning of the lyrics of hymns. Perhaps you know the words of the hymn so well that you just go through the motions. Or perhaps it’s a new hymn to you, so you’re concerned more about the tune than the words. Our task is to let the words of these hymns “dwell in you richly.” Soak in the words, reflect on them, find in them their meaning for you. Be mind-full, instead of mind-less about the lyrics. Let the words “dwell in you richly,” as Paul admonishes the Colossians.
Ever been to a gathering, like a Sunday school class, a Thanksgiving meal, or other situation, where someone says, “Who would like to offer a prayer?” There’s often an awkward silence because no one wants to say they wouldn’t like to offer the prayer, but no one is really volunteering either. I suspect lots of people are thinking something like, “I don’t know how to pray…I’ll sound stupid…I’ll stumble over my words.” So, it seems like the same people often end up doing the prayer, the people who seem to know just the right words to say, and the prayer seems to flow effortlessly from their lips. I know God rejoices in their prayers, but there is another kind of prayer, too. Often, at the end of Children’s Church, little Jackson sitting up here in front of the altar, offers a prayer. She offers not the prayer of a well-spoken adult, with all the “right” words, but a prayer from her heart, no trace of self-consciousness at all. It’s just Jackson and God, communing together, and it is beautiful.
Maybe it’s a similar situation with hymns, which are another form of prayer, set to music. There are certain people who are known to have a good voice, who volunteer to be the song leaders and the soloists. And the rest of us, myself included, are hesitant to join in a hymn, thinking, “I don’t have a good voice…I’ll sound like an idiot.” Try to let go of your self-consciousness. Let your voice rise along with the other members of the congregation in song. Let God hear your voice join in the collective musical prayer, let God hear you rejoice. Don’t be shy, don’t worry if you sing a little off key. Don’t worry if the person next to you is a “good singer,” and you’re not. Just let it be you and God, communing together, and it will be beautiful. Sing…sing like you mean it!!