Bursting into Song

Isaiah 55: 8-13
Revelation 5: 11- 14
Bursting into Song
Hymn Sunday
September 1, 2013
Mary R. Brownlow
Some of you may know the Narnia books, written by C.S. Lewis and read to and by children
and their parents for the last 60 years. In one of the books, The Magician’s Nephew, Lewis
described the creation of this wonderful, fictional world of Narnia, as experienced by a timetraveling English boy named Digory:
“In the darkness something was happening at last. A voice had begun to sing. It was very far
away and Digory found it hard to decide from what direction it was coming. Sometimes it seemed to
come from all directions at once. Sometimes he almost thought it was coming out of the earth
beneath them. Its lower notes were deep enough to be the voice of the earth herself. There were no
words. There was hardly even a tune. But it was, beyond comparison, the most beautiful noise he
had ever heard. It was so beautiful he could hardly bear it.
…the blackness overhead, all at once, was blazing with stars. They didn’t come out gently one by
one, as they do on a summer evening. One moment there had been nothing but darkness; next
moment a thousand, thousand points of light leapt out—single stars, constellations, and planets….
The eastern sky changed from white to pink and from pink to gold. The Voice rose and rose,
till all the air was shaking with it. And just as it swelled to the mightiest and most glorious sound it
had yet produced, the sun arose….
As Digory looked around him in the flushing glow of the newly created sun, the land of
Narnia was being created by the singer’s clarion Voice. It was literally being sung into existence.”
Some of you may have read the books of J.R.R. Tolkien, who tells a similar creation story
for Middle Earth: the Creator instructs angelic being to sing a sort of improvisation which is then
made real by the command of the Creator. That song created, not only a world, but also the
unfolding drama of history.
Both of these fantasy authors, imbued as they were with Christian mysticism, understood
singing as a creative act. And, for us, it is both creative and a response to divine creativity.
Worshipful singing is both a real, active force and a metaphor for something almost inexpressible.
We find this in Isaiah’s poetry. God’s word is the active, primal force, and all creation responds –
the mountains and the hills actually burst into song. It seems that there is an impulsive, irresistible,
joyful urge, whose only expression can be music. And in the heavenly scene described in the book
of Revelation, every created thing – “myriads of myriads…every creature in heaven and on earth
and under the earth and in the sea and all that is in them” (pretty comprehensive) sings in praise of
the Creator.
In our congregational life together, singing is the meeting point of physical, spiritual,
communal breath. In joy and sorrow, in praise and in distress, we take a deep breath together and
burst into song. But perhaps more is happening than just the good feelings of unity and belonging.
Maybe we are actually engaging in creative activity, partners with God.
What do we create by singing? I turn to the example of the civil rights movement, now fresh
in our minds because of the anniversary of the 1963 march on Washington. In many ways, that
movement was created and sustained by song: freedom songs, spirituals, chanted phrases. Rutha
Mae Harris, one of the Freedom Singers, said of that time: "There's no separation. Without the
songs of the movement, personally I believe there wouldn't have been a movement ... We needed
those songs to help us not to be fearful when we were doing marches, or doing picket lines. And you
needed a calming agent, and that's what those songs were for us.”
I remember being at a Pete Seeger concert that year with my father and feeling, for the first
time, the power of many voices singing We Shall Overcome. At the march on Washington itself,
Odetta sang Oh Freedom: “Before I'll be a slave, I'll be buried in my grave, and go home to my
Lord and be free.” Bob Dylan sang Eyes on the Prize: “Only chain a man can stand is that chain of
hand on hand. Keep your eyes on the prize, hold on. Ain't no man on earth control the weight of
glory on a human soul. Keep your eyes on the prize, hold on.” These songs created a sense of worth
for the singers and a sense of purpose for the movement. Much like the ringing, repeated phrase, “I
have a dream,” the word went out, and it did not return empty.
Today we are doing a lot of singing: some familiar words and tunes, some unfamiliar. We
are using songs to pray and praise, to try to describe the ineffable something that binds us together. I
urge you to take on this holy task of singing as a creative act, a way to accomplish God’s purpose in
our world. As we have been sung into existence by the clarion voice of an infinitely loving God, let
us sing the dream of compassion and justice into reality.