Soon after I arrived at FPC Duluth, I walked into the chapel and picked up the African-American Hymnal which lined the pews. I did not know this hymnal, and the only other hymnal I found was one from the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod. But it was worth trying because singing hymns has often been comforting and a solace to me.
Earlier that week, I had found myself walking around the exercise track near the chow hall, singing “Create in me a clean heart….” from the liturgy I remembered from childhood. As a counter to the hurt, loss, and grief I’d created for myself and my family, I needed a break. I needed to stop the relentless bouts of blame and loathing I was heaping on myself.
So, as I paged through the hymnal that was there, I started writing down the ones I recognized. I never learned to play the piano or read music effectively, so I had to recall tunes from memory. End result, 82 hymns and canticles for which I could recall the tune and most of the lyrics.
Today, I was reading Nadia Bolz-Weber’s autobiography, “Cranky, Beautiful Faith for Irregular (and Regular) People”. In the chapter “Beer & Hymns,” she shares how she and some of her parishioners occasionally gather in the basement of a local bar and belt out old hymns with pints lifted up (although given her being an alcoholic, her’s was a Diet Coke). On that particular night, she had considered canceling it. Just hours before and nine miles away from where they were gathering, a gunman had walked into a movie theater during a Batman movie and killed twelve people, injuring dozens of others.
But, she did not, recalling at the end of the funeral liturgy the phrase, “Even as we go to the grave, still we make our song alleluia.” She continued, noting that the hymns being sung had a uniqueness to them. They were uplifting, with a “it is well, it is well, with my soul” vibe. It was defiance of the darkness and violence that had just occurred.
That was my epiphany today. I was walking around the track, singing remembered hymns to myself (or anyone who happened to be close enough to hear) as an act of defiance to that other message being in prison was trying to tell me; that I was a loathsome criminal discarded by society and my family, locked away because I was not safe or credible enough to be in the community.
I am still struggling with that last message. But walking the track and singing old hymns helps. That realization is my Christmas gift this year.