In Excelsis Deo

For a few years as a child, my mom thought I might have a singing career. She had my little brother and me singing in everything from school programs to church functions, for the short time we went to church. My most explicit memory of my performances was a Christmas program at Bluff Springs Elementary School, near Azle, Texas. David and I were singing Silent Night, and I forgot the words at one point.

Okay! I did not forget the words! My first ever “girlfriend” was in the audience, batting her eyes at me, and I got a bit distracted. I am not sure which was more embarrassing, flubbing the lyrics or everyone knowing I was paying more attention to her than the baby Jesus. Whatever the truth of the matter, I still remember that sinking feeling when I started singing the wrong words.

That was not the end of my singing career, such as it was. No, that happened when I tried out for a real singing position in junior high. My mom insisted I give it a shot and even came to the audition with me. It was not a great audition. My voice was changing, I had no idea what the notes on the music meant, and the teacher stared at me as if I had crawled out from under a rock. I gave up any formal music training that afternoon. The music teacher was kind enough to blame the problem on my voice changing, but I knew the truth. I sucked!

Of course, when you gotta sing, you gotta sing. I sang along with the radio, the record player, the television, and the movies. True, I sang mostly under my breath. I did not want anyone to hear me, but it still counted in my book. I just liked to sing. I had a great shower voice, in my opinion, and in my years as a street cop, I could rock out with the good-time radio on the night shift. I probably scared off a few bad guys driving around my district singing along with the Eagles or Willy. The bad guys probably thought I was crazy. Who wants to deal with a crazy cop?

Of course, all good things come to an end. Promotions, children, education, and other responsibilities made me hang up my air guitar. For years, singing took a back seat to everything else. I really did not know how much I missed it for years. Then, in the mid-90s, I became involved in a para-ministry of sorts. It incorporated music into a life skills or life change program.

One of the challenges of the program was to “stretch” yourself. Essentially, that meant performing a song picked for you by the training team, in costume, in front of a bunch of people. Talk about a blast! It was fantastic and one of the reasons I was involved in the program for the next decade. Nobody cared how well you sang, and you could screech to your heart’s content, it was about having fun and letting your hair down.

That program helped me find my way back to God and to church. Yes, it was that kind of seminar. It was open to anyone, and if all one could handle was a higher power, they were okay with that. Still, the focus behind the scenes was Jesus. My next musical step came in 2009. It was then I realized singing along with a record, or even singing as part of the congregation was not enough. Thankfully, the choir at my church welcomed everyone who wanted to give it a shot. Training, reading music and having a real voice were desirable traits, but folks like me were welcome. It was here, I found the true meaning of the quotation at the top of the page.

Singing of any kind can make one feel good. It can make you feel upbeat or at least less stressed. That is why many sing in the shower or sing along with the radio. Of course, singing along at a concert is a given. Singing makes you feel better, if you let it, but the quotation above is limited to a degree. Singing “Mommas Don’t Let Your Babies Grow up to Be Cowboys” at karaoke night or driving down the road can be fun. If you are musically inclined, breaking into song in response to something heartwarming can leave you with a warm glow for hours. But, what does, I am happy because I sing, really mean?

I could not find an explanation from the author of the quote. I did see some comments that might make sense, and most were similar to my own thoughts on the matter. Yet, in most of these, there seemed to be a gaping hole. What does it really mean, I am happy because I sing? You may feel differently, but for me, true happiness is more than the adrenaline rush and release, one may feel singing a favorite song or two. Yes, those are great and important, but the happiness that comes from singing alone can be short-lived.

My experience indicates true happiness comes from why one sings. I know some professional singers. They love entertaining others. They love making people feel better, helping them forget the challenges they will face when they leave the venue, and deal with the world again. Letting a gifted singer distract one for a while is terrific, and both parties can feel better as the night draws to a close. Still, there may be something missing.

Forty-plus Sundays a year, my wife and I sing in the choir at church. Fifty-one Sundays a year, we feel blessed to have that privilege. One Sunday a year, we not only feel blessed, we are truly blessed by having that privilege. We just finished that Sunday, really that weekend as the choir sang six times from Friday evening to Sunday evening.

Five of those were our Christmas Cantata performances. Our Cantata service is performed to bring glory to His name. That made us happy in a way hard to explain. Singing can make one feel happy, but singing praises to our Lord goes beyond happiness. It brings joy and peace one must experience to understand.

Remember that the next time you sing a hymn in church.  Singing hymns is not simply a group activity and tradition. It is a time to let our Lord and Savior hear us praise Him.  It is also a time for us to feel His love in return. That’s where true happiness comes from.

© -2019

About S. Eric Jackson

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