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Songs of the Spirit - A New Song

Written by Revd Clare Hayns, posted on Sunday, February 28, 2021

Ephesians 5. 1, 18b-20


Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children, and live in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God…  be filled with the Spirit, as you sing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs among yourselves, singing and making melody to the Lord in your hearts, giving thanks to God the Father at all times and for everything in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.


When I was a curate I used to visit a nursing home every week to take communion and lead the community in hymn singing. There was a wonderful woman called Marion, in the late stages of dementia. She had no memory. She didn’t recognise her children and no recall of recent events. Yet she had an incredible memory when it came to hymns: she was word perfect.

She knew ‘Thine be the Glory’, ‘The Lord is my Shepherd’, ‘All things Bright and Beautiful’ and ‘Great is thy Faithfulness’. All by heart.

When we sang one of those, she would stand at the front and lead the singing with great gusto.  

Singing taps into a different part of our brain than normal speech. Medics can explain this further but normal speech uses the left hemisphere of the brain and melody the right. So singing uses both sides.

You may have noticed that if you put something to a melody it becomes easier to remember. And it taps into something deep within us. Most of us will have songs that remind us of particular moments in our lives, and song that we draw on in hard times.

The Bible contains around 185 songs, and 80% of these are in the book of psalms, which is the hymn book of the Hebrew Scriptures. There are songs of lament, hope, triumph and love. There are a number of songs in scripture which are sung regularly in church, such as the Benedictus (Zachariah’s song, which we sing at Matins), The Magnificat (Mary’s song, sung at Evensong), and the Nunc Dimittus (Simeon’s song, sung at Evensong and Compline). There are also wonderful songs such as the song of Miriam and Moses, and David’s song of repentance which is psalm 51. We will look at these over the next few blog posts.

Life is difficult right now. Living through this pandemic is bleak. So much of what we love has been stripped away. One of the things I’ve missed most during this pandemic is congregational singing and I long for the time when we can gather together and raise our voices in worship.


Gathering to sing together in praise and worship has always been one of the core activities of the Judeo-Christian people. St Paul exhorts the early believers to ‘be filled with the Spirit, as you sing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs among yourselves… giving thanks to God the Father at all times’

We don’t always need to be in a group to sing. I think of St Paul singing loudly from prison in Acts.

When we sing in worship we are giving God the glory. We are putting things into perspective and remembering our place in the world. We are remembering that our current situation isn’t all there is.

When we sing we might be lifted out of our own troubles for a while, and find that God has blessed us as we worship him, and our troubles may seem a little smaller and less significant.

Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote, "Even in the mud and scum of things, something always, always sings.”

John Wesley, the founder of Methodism, who preached in our own Cathedral, left some wonderful ‘Directions for Singing’ which involved learning the words and singing ‘lustily’. At the end of them he adds: “above all, sing spiritually. Have an eye to God in every word you sing.”[1]

I love that. Sing spiritually, having an eye to God in every word.

There’s one carol that spoke to me this last Christmas. It’s ‘O Holy Night’ and the phrase that struck me particularly is “A thrill of hope. The weary world rejoices.”

We will sing because we have hope. Even though we are weary, even though we are apart, we can sing and our voices join together, with the voices of the angels, with the first Christians, with Wesley. Singing unites us across the divides of time and space.

And as we sing, out loud or in our hearts, tunefully or not, let us giving thanks to God the Father at all times and for everything in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.


This blogpost is an edited version of a sermon given by Revd Clare Hayns in January 2021.