"Music is faith, and faith is music. It is in the intertwining of the two that we come as close to heaven as we can while still standing on this earth." ~Anonymous
There is a soundtrack to everything in life, whether we know it or not. Memories of long ago are alive again and vivid when we hear a song that places us back in that place and time. This works for both positive and negative memories, and everything in between as well. My childhood was a series of songs about God, songs as prayers to this God, and songs that were uplifting even if they didn't specifically say that God was the one doing the uplifting. I grew up in a household where my father was a preacher and my mother was a teacher in Sabbath School. If you're not familiar with the idea of the Sabbath, it's the idea set out in the Bible that God rested from sundown on Friday to sundown on Saturday of creation week, so we too rested between sundown on Friday and sundown on Saturday. Just imagine observing a day of the Lord, except it's not on Sunday. It's on Saturday.
Anyway, these songs I speak of are hymns, which was the first music I was exposed to as a child going to church every Saturday. The hymnal was this thick book that looked to me quite like a Bible, but instead of having silky pages it was full of regular paper like a regular book. There were numbers on every page, but the real numbers were the ones attached to the word "Hymn." I couldn't say the word back then, so I said "Him" instead. Of course now I realize that only pretentious people try their best to pronounce the "n." So yes, there were at least 50 hymns in the books we had in our church, and we were expected to know every single one of them. I always found that funny, and I wondered why they even printed the books if it was a memory exercise. I realized later that the hymnals were probably for the newcomers, those who had been drawn into the church but who hadn't been exposed to our songs yet. It made sense that way, I guess.
Sometimes I would help lead Vespers, which was the way we ushered out the Sabbath at sundown every Saturday. Enough people would have lasted all day at church. They arrived at Vespers pretty mellow, either because they had lasted all day at church, or because they truly felt that God's spirit was with us as we said arrivederci to another of His holy days. Regardless, they would be there, and they would be ready to sing, so I would ask for requests and dedications. I always felt like a late night radio host when I was up in front of "the saints." They always had their old favorites, like "The Rugged Cross," "Amazing Grace," and "Go Tell It On The Mountain." I never once had to open my hymnal during Vespers, even though the person making the request would always tell us which number it was so we could follow along. I was never self-conscious either, when I was up there, because those hymns were as familiar as my own first name. They were comfortable. I knew them and they knew me, so there was a reciprocity that I don't get from just any song.
It's funny too that even though my world has expanded to include so many other genres, styles, and areas of music, when I think of home my mind goes back to those hymns I sang in a church building that is no longer there, with people the majority of whom have passed on as well. They are memories of a bygone era, but they themselves are not bygone. They're still very much with me. If I walked into a church today I could grab the old, dusty hymnal and sing any of the songs within its pages without glancing at the lyrics. I don't mention it because it's a valuable skill but to show that it's the things we grow up with that stick with us our entire lives, whether we want them to or not. But I don't mind the hymns sticking around, taking up valuable memory cells, because even now they're still comfortable. They're still home, and I'm still remembering fondly those nights at Vespers, when I felt truly free.
Sam McManus, Music Blogger
In the tape player: