Eden Casteel

Rhode Island Based Voice and Piano Teacher

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Sing Amen, Somebody!

It was late afternoon when Mr. C said, "Isn't tonight the last night of Lenten Hymnal Study?" We'd only been to one meeting due to schedule conflicts, but it was great -- Mr. C's parish (where we were married) invited parishioners to learn more about the hymns of the 1982 Anglican hymnal . . . and sing 'em. So, we went to last night's meeting, the final one of the study. Each week we'd sing a few hymns and hear more about the history of each one. Fifty of us sat in chairs in the multipurpose room. We pulled out the hymnals, the church organist took his place at the piano, and Rev. J started to call out hymn numbers. Tonight wasn't a hymn study -- it was a wonderful orgy of hymn singing!! He had a long list of hymns that had been requested by members of the group and we worked through all of them.  . . about 20 hymns in an hour! I sightread a couple of new ones, but most were old, dear favorites. . . ."Praise To The Lord, The Almighty," "Eternal Father, Strong To Save," "Breathe On Me Breath Of God," "Ye Watchers And Ye Holy Ones," "Come Down O Love Divine," "For The Beauty Of The Earth," "Now The Green Blade Rises," "Seek Ye First." I sang many of them from memory, and so did several other folks. One lady started crying right in the middle and her friend comforted her, and they kept singing. It took me back to the  "Hymnal Sundays" of my childhood church, held once or twice a year -- the whole service was a hymn sing, sometimes with my dad at the organ and my mom in the choir (we started off, of course, with No. 1 in the Methodist Hymnal, "O For A Thousand Tongues To Sing My Great Redeemer's Praise").

I guess a Praise and Worship Team would be the contemporary version of a "Hymnal Sunday," moving from song to song with lyrics projected on a screen, and some microphoned singers in front. Glad it works for some, but that's too close to karaoke for me. I like to cradle a hymnal in my hand. I love flipping through its pages, scanning hundreds of different titles and tunes. I love watching people in the congregation squint at the small typeface, try to figure out the melody (or even the harmony), and then raise their heads and aim their voices straight at the altar when they get to a part of the hymn that they know by heart.

Sometimes I feel like I'm not doing enough to learn about my faith because I haven't memorized a Bible verse each week, and I don't get up at 5am with my Bible and my journal. I do manage to read a little devotional material during Lent, but I barely make it through a decade of the rosary, when I remember to do it. I realized anew last night, I've been singing my faith all my life, and the words and melodies are engraved on my heart. Church musicians know that "singing is praying twice," as St. Augustine said. Last night, I really felt it. God sings His love for me, to me, and I sing it right back. And boy, does that make me happy.

Oh, what a wonderful thing to know, heading into Holy Week! I can't wait to sing "Lift High The Cross," "Pange Lingua," "O Sacred Head Surrounded," and finally "Jesus Christ Is Risen Today."

What's your favorite hymn?

(More good news. . . my Ocean State blogger friend, the self-proclaimed "Snarky Organist" Brian Michael Page, will be starting a new job at Sacred Heart in Warwick, not too far from my home. I'm now within driving distance of a parish -- in my diocese -- that might actually find me useful! Congratulations, Brian! Hope we'll work together very soon.)

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