Weather Report March 2017

Singing hymns is central to worship at Immanuel Baptist Church. When we sing, we embody our capacity to “yield, submit, and abandon ourselves” in trust to God.1 I hear determination in our voices when we follow a time of confession of sin with an assurance of pardon sung a cappella. Singing makes the work of the confessing church less imposing.
Singing is said to make work easier. This has been observed in a certain member of the wasp family – the dirt dauber. These non-aggressive wasps build their nests by troweling mud against the underside of barn rafters. Humming as they work, the dirt dauber is said to “master their material by a kind of song.”2 I like to believe that the vibrations from our singing aids in creating assurance.
My late friend Mary Lou Reynolds loved the hymns of the church. On one occasion she told me the following story which speaks to the triumphant nature of hymns. Her husband, Bill Reynolds, the distinguished professor emeritus of church music at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, received the story in a letter. 
The great-grandfather of the man telling the story, Levi Hefner, was a messenger for General Robert E. Lee during the Civil War. One night he was on mission for General Lee when he came to a bridge that was being guarded by a Union soldier with orders to “shoot to kill” anyone attempting to cross from other direction. Levi did not know that, but his horse sensed trouble, nervously balking at crossing the bridge. Levi loved to sing hymns and had a beautiful voice. He dismounted and started singing softly the hymn “Jesus Lover of My Soul.” This calmed the horse. Remounted, and singing, he rode his horse across the bridge and finished his mission.
Years later, attending a reunion of soldiers who fought in the Civil War, Levi joined a group of veterans telling stories. One man identified himself as a Union soldier from Ohio and said he had a strange story to tell. He said that he was posted to guard a bridge one dark night and gave the location. He said his order was to shoot to kill anyone approaching from the far side. But only one rider came his way that night, and as he prepared to shoot, the rider’s horse balked. The rider dismounted and calmed the horse by singing “Jesus Lover of My Soul.” The Union soldier said, “I couldn’t shoot him!” The man’s great-grandfather Levi, who had been hearing this, responded, “That was me!”3 
Moved by the story, I asked Mary for a copy and she obliged. I am grateful to her husband Bill for treasuring it enough to file it for safekeeping all the while mindful of the controversial issues over music that beset the church. I read it on occasion when the need arises to justify the singing of hymns at worship. I read it given that ours is an age wherein folks no longer sing at their labors. 
Yet, the work of the confessing church continues to entail “yielding, submitting and abandoning” ourselves to the Creator despite the cross-pressures of our day. As we trowel the mud of our contemporary world into vibrant communities of faith and love, may we take a note from the dirt dauber’s play book and sing hymns, trusting that our gift of song will make our work easier.  —Steven 
 
  1Brueggemann, Walter. Israel’s Praise. P.160.
  2Berry, Wendell. Standing by Words. P.76.
  3Starnes, Danny. Letter to Bill Reynolds, October 3, 1981.