Rev. Karen Hernandez, pastor of Living Hope~Kuna United Methodist Church
“Blessed Assurance” is an old favorite in the United Methodist Hymnal. The chorus says, “This is my story, this is my song, praising my savior all the day long.” With this in mind, I am spending this summer considering the role of music in faith.
The Christian scriptures are songs: Moses and Miriam share a song. Hannah, Mary, and Zechariah all sing solos. Song of Solomon or Song of Songs is a whole book in the Bible that’s a love song like no other (and comes with at least a PG-13 rating)! All 150 psalms are songs that were once sung as heartfelt, honest prayers to God or used in worship to teach the faith while praising God. Colossians 3:12-17 uses a musical term (harmony) to advise us on how to relate to one another, then tells us to express gratitude to God “sing[ing] psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs”.
Music and singing are significant in both scripture and tradition, but are they crucial to how we praise God?
You’ve heard of subjects or even people being “right-brained” or “left-brained.” That’s because speech is controlled by the left side of the brain, while music awareness is a function of the right brain. Singing, however, depends on both the right and left hemispheres of the brain. Persons who have suffered brain injuries or are living with dementia can sometimes communicate by singing even when they are unable to speak a single word. Music also activates deep parts of the “brain involved in memory and emotion.” The community choir is a wonderful example of music and singing bridging gaps to create new relationships and concerts and connection across differences that we had used as excuses to keep our distance. Singing now connects us with one another and shared experiences. That’s true across greater distances, too. The songbooks in my church have some songs in other languages and from other continents. When we sing those songs, we become more aware of how we are connected as the body of Christ.
The Hebrew word for both breath and Holy Spirit is ruach. With sound and breath, God spoke creation into being. With sound and breath, we sing our praises to God. We are told, especially in the psalms, that all creation is to praise the Lord. In fact, the universe does! Scientists have picked up a hum—a B♭that is 57 octaves below middle C—that the universe constantly emits. Of course, only sophisticated technology can “hear” this sound, but maybe music and singing isn’t only about hearing and sound. If I understood my brief science lesson this week, here’s how hearing works: Sound causes waves. Waves that reach our ears move fluid in our ears. The fluid moves tiny hairs. The movement of those hairs triggers nerve impulses to be sent to the brain. The brain interprets those impulses as sound. The scientist who was explaining this said that sound is really like long-distance touch. That idea of “long distance touch” takes us right back to the power of music to connect.
No wonder singing our faith together is such a crucial part of our tradition: It connects us to one another, but it’s also how we invite the Spirit into ourselves as we reach out to touch God with our praise.
 Moisse, Katie, et al. ABC News. November 14, 2011.  Ibid.  Rockwell, John. New York Times. January 30, 2004.  Radio Lab. Season 2, Episode 2.