It was the Thursday before Easter Sunday and I was with friends. My friends are the residents of Traverse Manor where I have been singing every week for over 5 years. Most are in their 80s and 90s with a few pushing 100. Because I know them well, I knew they would appreciate a hymn sing.
Rather than start with our standard Hail, Hail the Gang’s All Here, we started our sing along with Just a Closer Walk with Thee. That opened the door and by request we sang In the Garden and Old Rugged Cross.
Making the music session personal
We talked about our favorite hymns and there were more requests. Using my iPhone and a wireless speaker I was able to play for them Christ the Lord is Risen Today, followed by a rousing version of He Arose.
Elizabeth sat in the back. As the familiar hymns began I saw her lips move, almost imperceptively. Her focus seemed elsewhere; until she caught my eye, we shared a smile and she called out Amen!
To my left I could hear Buck and Dotty. Married 72 years and sitting side by side in wheel chairs, their voices grew stronger as the hymn went on. Buck wiped his eyes as a few tears fell.
Perched on her walker near the front, Shirley’s ever present smile grew wider and more enthusiastic with each refrain.
No longer the song leader
Normally on my feet as I lead the singing, I found myself compelled to just sit down and become a participant rather than a song leader. I allowed my own memories to take over. In my mind’s eye I could see the wooden pews in Trinity Lutheran Church in Dubuque, Iowa; me wearing my Easter hat and gloves and the orange corduroy swing coat my mother had made. Picturing us standing side by side, I could almost hear our voices blending as we sang, Christ the Lord is Risen Today…Halleluiah. I linger in this sweet memory and send a little prayer of gratitude up to my mom.
From there I find myself back in the simple white frame Church of the Brethren. I am grown now with a family of my own. We have gotten up early to join my mother and father-in-law for the Easter Sunday Sunrise Service. The small congregation belts out Up from the grave he arose. I see my father-in-law’s long, white hair and hear his booming voice singing with conviction.
Can we go beyond awakened memories?
I don’t sing gospel songs because of my own faith. I sing hymns and gospel songs because I know they are important to the people I serve. Very important. But I share this story with you because my experience with my friends at Traverse Manor has surprised me in a way. Not because I am new to the idea that songs can bring up memories.
Experiencing a deeper connection
In the room on Thursday was a deeper connection; a unity, a spirit that I could feel. Yes, my memories warmed me. But it was more than that. I could see the power of their faith and it was as if I had been invited in to rest in their faith for just a bit. It didn’t matter what I did or did not believe or whether I went to church. Their faith was so evident and so strong. All I had to do was be a witness to the peace it brought them.
My take away
It doesn’t matter which religion the music comes from. If you open your heart, sharing it with others, you too can experience the communion, the peace and the love. And that is a gift.