The soundtrack of our lives
Hymnbooks serve a number of important purposes; they chart our lives, they keep our hymns with us across the generations and they give us access to centuries of psalms and hymns and spiritual songs.
I love hymnbooks and have quite a collection of them and a few, in particular, are really special to me. Some years ago, my sister surprised me with the gift of an old copy of Sacred Songs and Solos. This was the hymnbook we used in Church and at home when I was growing up. It was as if she’d given me back part of my childhood!
My rather battered copy of Youth Praise evokes lovely memories of my teenage years singing in a youth group although I have to acknowledge that not all of its hymns have stood the test of time!
There’s also my Baptist hymnal which has accompanied me through a number of years in various Churches throughout my travels. And then we spent a number of years in France and I learned a whole new selection of Psalms and hymns in French.
Given my passion for the Psalms, I also have a Scottish Psalter, which featured a great deal at home and in Church when I was growing up and, more recently, I acquired a copy of the Genevan Psalter which is in French.
• Hymns that instruct us
There’s a marked educational element to congregational singing. As well as engaging with our hearts and voices, we’re supposed to sing with understanding. ‘I will sing praise with my spirit, but I will sing with my mind also.’ (1 Corinthians 14:15)
I’ve never studied any subject in depth without the aid of textbooks, repetition, memorisation and practice. Clearly, the Bible is the sole and supreme authority in all matters of doctrine and Christian living. Indeed, that’s one of the key reasons why we sing Psalms; when we sing them, we’re singing straight from God’s Word.
If we choose to sing hymns, selecting those that are rich in theology can serve to underline and reinforce Biblical truths. In this way, our hymnbooks can act as secondary or supplementary textbooks. If we have a hymnbook at home, the hymns we sing in Church and the lessons we learn from them can spill over into our time of family worship and can add a great deal to our private and personal devotions.
• Hymns that minister to us
I’ve sung Psalms and hymns for as long as I can remember. I’ve sung them through all the highs and lows of my life when I simply couldn’t find any other words to express my feelings.
My Mum taught me to sing when I was very young and I was able to ‘return the favour’ by singing to her in the final months of her life. What pleasure and comfort we took from our shared memories. And then, I stood mute with heartache while those around me sang at her Service of Remembrance and their singing touched my heart and ministered to my soul.
Our repertoire of Psalms and hymns is an extraordinary resource of comfort, hope, encouragement and much more. I don’t believe they’d be so deeply engraved in my heart and mind if I’d just sung them from fleeting images on an overhead screen or simply listened to someone else perform them.