Psalm 78; Psalm 139; Matthew 21:15-16
Can anyone here remember when they first heard someone singing? What are your childhood memories of singing?
When we were little, my Mum used to put us to bed at night and rub our backs to help us sleep. As she rubbed, she sang: “Come into my heart, come into my heart, come into my heart, Lord Jesus. Come in today, come in to stay, come into my heart, Lord Jesus” “ Can you imagine how much those words and actions shaped us, growing up? From as early as I can remember, our mother’s love for us was tied to the faith that she shared with us. As I went to sleep, I knew that both God and my mother were watching over me. Perhaps you have similar memories!
Every single one of us was born to sing. There’s a proverb from Zimbabwe that says, “If you can walk you can dance, if you talk you can sing”. OK, some of us may be better at it than others (some people seem to be born with rhythm in their bones and melodies on their lips) – but as long as we have voices, we can sing. Music is often the first way we communicate with our little ones. There is some evidence that singing to your baby prepares their brains for language development (https://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2011/may/08/singing-children-development-language-skills) . Many people play their children music while still in the womb, and what parent hasn’t crooned to their baby? When my friends’ children were little it was my delight to cuddle them and sing them to sleep. I would happily sing for hours. And yes, I sang them songs of faith. When I couldn’t sing to them myself, I found a beautiful lullaby CD that included common lullabies like Rockabye Baby and Hush Little Baby, but also spiritual songs like “All Night All Day”,“All Through the Night”, and “Michael Row”. None of my secular friends objected to the content. In fact, I had a couple come back and ask me where I’d found it because it was the only CD their baby would fall asleep to!
Most children love to sing. The first noises a baby makes (apart from crying) is often musical cooing and burbling. I can see little ones vocalizing along with the singing in church. It isn’t until someone tells them that they can’t or shouldn’t sing that children stop making music with their voices.
Psalm 78 sings of the responsibility we have to declare our faith to the next generation – and how better can we do that than with the music that is in our blood and our bones? We might have to update our songs a little bit – especially the words, since the meaning of some words can change over time – but sharing the songs we love is one of the best ways of communicating the faith we love as well. After all, of music reinforces memory, those songs will be with us and with them for the rest of their lives!
What songs of faith do you remember singing growing up? How about when your children were small?
Here are some I remember: “Lord of the Dance”, “Joy is the flag”, “I’ve got the joy”, “I’m in the Lord’s Army” (that one I could do without), I am a C-H-R-I-S-T-I-A-N; “Deep and Wide”, “There’ll be Sunshine in the Morning”, “I am the light of the world”, “Joy is like the rain”, “It Only Takes a Spark”. Through them I learned that faith is joyful, that God loves me and that Jesus is my friend, that Christianity requires commitment and dedication; I learned Bible passages and Bible stories put to music – “The Wedding Banquet”, “Ten Lepers”, “Silver and Gold Have I None”, “The Lord’s My Shepherd”. All of those things are as much a part of me as my ABC’s and my times tables.
So, if you haven’t already, share the music of your faith with the children of your life. Sing along with them, even if you think you can’t sing! And in turn, listen to the songs they love to sing. What do the words say? What are they learning about the world they live in and what it is to live a good life? One of the songs my niece’s middle school sang a few years ago was “Fireflies” by Owl City. The words are light and the song is dance-pop, but it revels in the power of imagination and in the natural world. Those are good things! Tegan and Sara’s hit song “Everything is Awesome” was hugely popular when “The Lego Movie” came out. It celebrates working together as a team – a positive message.
I know many of us worry about what kids listen to these days. There’s some pretty awful stuff out there. From my own experience I can tell you that a lot of children don’t even notice the difficult or offensive words – they don’t know what the words mean so they make up words that make sense to them. So some of the problematic stuff just goes right by them. There’s lots of good music out there too: good words, good melody, good writing.
If your family doesn’t like the idea of spiritual music, perhaps you might introduce secular music with themes that run alongside the themes of Christian commitment: love, peace, sharing, caring, working together, kindness, inclusivity and so on. There are a lot of really fine children’s albums out there done by good musicians, both independent and mainstream. And warning – just because it says “Christian” doesn’t necessarily mean you want your kids to listen to it. The messages some supposedly Christian artists convey might be quite different from what we want children to learn about God. Nowadays it’s easy to preview music – just search for it online or get a friend to, and watch a video, listen to an MP3 file or read the lyrics. Easy!
Why does any of this matter? The Psalmist goes on to say that if we don’t pass our faith from generation to generation, the next generation will grow up without knowing what makes for a good life – a life lived well in community with our neighbours, our planet and with God. When we lose our faith all of creation suffers. We begin to think we are the centre of the universe, and we forget about the sacredness of life and our moral responsibility to each other as children of God. When we lose our sense of our place in the web of life, trouble comes – and it is trouble that could destroy us. It nearly did destroy the people of Israel centuries ago; their greed, their oppression of others, their misuse of the land – all in defiance of God’s commands – led to their collapse as a nation and their exile in a foreign land. And it was hanging on to their faith that brought the ancient Hebrew people forward in time to this day, a unique and rich community of people faithful to the covenant God made with their ancestors.
I know some of you feel you have tried to pass on the faith, and it didn’t “Catch”. But some analyses I’ve read suggest something different. They suggest that much of what we uphold as Christian people has become so ingrained in our Canadian culture that people can no longer remember its source. Caring for others, putting the good of the community at least equal with the good of the individual, healing the sick, having compassion on the poor and the oppressed, welcoming the stranger, respecting human beings equally and caring for the land we live on – all of these are both Canadian values and Christian values. I won’t say they’re synonymous – we haven’t established the reign of God on earth, not by a long shot – but I suspect that your children have absorbed more than you think they have. Yes, there are parts of Christian living that may yet be missing for some – but that’s where Grandma and Grandpa and Uncle Jim and Auntie Joan and neighbour Lois come in. We can keep passing it on, whether through music – as we’ve talked of today – or through Facebook posts, or articles shared or honest conversations or stories told or invitations to join this larger family we call the church.
We will tell new generations of the wonders God has done – and not just in the past, but in the present. We celebrate God together, in words and music and action, and we share our joy and gratitude with our children. Keep on singing! May it be so. Amen.
Music commonly sung in the United Church that’s appropriate to kids:
More Voices – book, CDs, downloads available
Rainbow Sing-a-long and Rainbow Songbook by Alan Whitmore – book, CD available
Linnea Good’s “Swimmin’ Like a Bird, I Know You, or The Greatest of These” – book, CD, download www.borealismusic.com
All God’s Children Sing from Wood Lake Books by Sharon Becksted – book
The Whole People of God from Wood Lake Books – book, CD
Sunshine Singalong from Wood Lake Books – book and CD
I’m God’s Child by Lesley J Clare – book and CD
And don’t forget the hymns we sing on Sundays – kids can learn some of those too! Voices United and More Voices. Small children needs songs that are repetitive, and if they have actions or they can move and dance to them, even better! Older children who can read are able to learn the “wordier” hymns.
I haven’t checked these out, but worth a look:
One example of a traditional song updated for today:
Jesus loves the little children,
All the children of the world;
Ev’ry colour, ev’ry race, all are welcomed by His grace
Jesus loves the little children of the world.
Jesus cares for all the children;
All the children of the word.
Whether short or round or tall
Jesus cares for one and all
Jesus cares for all the children of the world.