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(c) 2015 Trina Lambert

(c) 2015 Trina Lambert

When I took the Strong Interest Inventory about 20 years ago, some of the results indicated I might like to work in a church. Since I didn’t feel any calling in that direction and since I also like my weekends free from job-related tasks, I eventually put the suggestion down to a cultural bias. Just because I answered as a person of faith doesn’t mean faith-based work was my vocation. Perhaps I am just called to think and act as a person of faith in other professions/work settings. Nonetheless, I’m betting it was my “I like singing hymns” response that most directed that particular result.

But, hey, I do like singing hymns. In past centuries much of the best music was written for the Church and I’m into singing good music. Beyond that, though, part of why I am musical is because I was raised in a strong German-American family. The German-Americans where I’m from had traditions such as playing instruments together in family bands and meeting up often to sing—which included singing many of the hymns that came from the German chorales.

Even as teens and young adults in the 70s and 80s, my cousins and I had great fun doing this. It never occurred to us just how nerdy our singing hymns might appear to the general population. However, we didn’t sing just hymns—I remember singing songs such as “Bohemian Rhapsody” or pieces from musicals such as Pippin—but we always sang in at least 4-part harmony. The youngest cousins started as page-turners for my mom’s piano playing, learning from the bench before they were old enough to join in. When we reunited in song at Mom’s and an uncle’s services, it was as if we were doing what we had always done but with cousins moving into the places of director and accompanist.

My own music lessons began with piano and clarinet, but picked up vocally when we moved to a new town when I turned 10. With our family back in a Lutheran church again, Mom began to teach my brother and me—Sunday service after Sunday service—how to read and sing harmony from the liturgy and the hymns. So much of what I know about choral singing comes from first honing my sight-reading skills while singing hymns. Hymns have also helped me practice singing almost weekly since 1972, even during years when I do not participate in a choir.

Thanks to Mom, I always had an opportunity to sing while growing up, whether at home, in church, or through some group she was directing for my brother and me and our friends. Of course I also sang at school, but only through my freshman year in college. The hymn-singing is what has remained most constant for me.

And when I can, I sing the harmony in those hymns, week after week. Over time I’ve noticed the patterns of particular organists. For example, the organist playing for the church I attended in college always changed up the harmonies on the third verse while my church’s current organist usually varies the final verse. Until I joined the choir at church again in 2011, hymn-singing has been one of my only opportunities in adult life to sing harmony besides the three years in the 80s in another church choir and an earlier year (1990) with my current church choir. Singing harmony with hymns is to singing in choir as doing warm-up jogs are to running races or as writing in a journal is to formal writing—it is a very good way to practice skills even when you aren’t performing, so to speak.

As our society has transitioned to a post-Christian one—a society where a person who likes to sing hymns might not just be considered an average churchgoer but instead someone who should work in a church—so has the Church’s desire to be welcoming—as it should if it wants to remain relevant to all who hunger for God. We need to remove barriers that make others feel unwelcome. Yet at the same time we are also losing traditions, some strongly tied to eras when our ethnic traditions carried into how we “did” church services. Nonetheless, what feels inclusive to me most likely feels exclusive to someone raised outside my tradition.

I get it, but that doesn’t mean I like musical changes in the church service such as (only) the words of hymns being displayed on walls for us to sing or our hymnals showing just the melodies for many songs. For me so much joy has come from communal singing—in harmony.

Which means I better keep singing in a church choir. Trust me, though, when I say no one is going to pay me to do so as a profession. As Bach wrote at the bottom of each of his works, “S. D. G.”“Soli Deo Gloria” or glory to God alone. To get to sing to God—in harmony with others—is enough.


(c) 2009 Christiana Lambert

Here’s a warning: I’m not going to respect the metaphor today. My friend Dawn always said to be careful about mixing metaphors and yet here I am talking about walking and sailing in the same blog post. But in the earliest days of Spring and during the windy month of March, wind is associated with both land and sea in my mind. No respect at all, I tell you.

Yesterday I stepped onto the labyrinth at our church, Bethany Lutheran, prepared to stick with one word in my mind and to let God guide that path. Calling or vocare or however you want to define being called to a profession. What is to be the next turn on my journey now that I am no longer a caregiver?

Of course, my mind being mine, I couldn’t stick with one word—just as I can’t seem to stick with one metaphor. Maybe it’s because I have taken so little time to be contemplative over the last few months.

Oh, it would appear that the busyness of the past few years is over and that I could take time to just be. To sit and listen for what comes next.

But so far that hasn’t happened—I don’t know if that is about to change or if I keep myself from slowing down. There have been so many tasks in these past two months since Mom has been gone. True I have the time I used to spend visiting or doing paperwork—plus I sleep better. My nights have become more restful now that I am no longer being asked to make multiple decisions for someone else or waiting for a call that will tell me things are worse or that the worst has happened.

Nonetheless, I have had tasks associated with the before and after of her services, such as the planning for the services and handling memorial donations and our expressions of gratitude. And a look around our house will tell you that I am still dealing with additional physical items that are not my own, be they for donation, preservation, or disposal. Despite my having given several large bags of clothing to ARC last month, more donations remain. Then there are the photos and papers—to stay or to go—either to someone else or in the trash.

I won’t even discuss the storage unit.

See, I could make up a boatload of excuses for not getting on with my own life, but why do I want to stay in this harbor of uncertainty? I was called to provide care over the last several years, but I feel certain God didn’t put me on this earth to be a full-time caregiver. I just wonder how and when he’s going to give me more directions on how to pull away from the dock in order to go toward other horizons.

(Here’s where I must take care with this metaphor, as I am no sailor though Sherman is. What little I know comes from movies like Peter Pan and Pirates of the Caribbean and a few sails across reservoirs in Nebraska where I was so not in charge—not being in charge is the part of sailing I truly understand! And, that’s how I’m going to “respect the metaphor” in this writing.)

In the meantime I start uncoiling the ropes: I work on a financial plan, search for a puppy, and train for instructing Zumba® fitness. My cleared desk leaves room to focus on the writing work I accepted with the caveat that first I leave home to bid farewell to my mother.

And, so I wonder, can I be a dancing writer who works at home enough to raise a new canine-friend by her feet?

Not knowing, yesterday I took those feet on the path, walking and talking, despite not being still—in the end, my stillness is best achieved while moving.

Today this harbor is calm, but I am at the ready for the wind to pick up, fill the sails on my ship, and guide me out to sea.

My captain (my captain!)—unlike the one in Walt Whitman’s poem—still breathes: Come, Holy Spirit, come.

(c) 2010 Christiana Lambert

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