Back in college, I had a group of friends from many different majors and backgrounds. One thing most of us had in common was that we like to sing and play games together — on several memorable occasions we reserved the choir room and gathered around the piano, taking turns playing and singing hymns, Disney, and Broadway tunes. Everyone, regardless of proficiency, belted out the music, and the more adventuresome/dexterous would sing in parts. It was such a lovely time. Here in Japan, singing is a national pastime — you don’t have to go far to see signs for the カラオケ (karaoke) bars lighting up the night! Friends, families, co-workers, and classmates often go and sing together or compete with one another for the best performance. It’s apparently considered a way to open up to and build camaraderie with the people in your circles, and singing can be just plain fun.
That camaraderie of those singing parties from so many years ago came back to me last Monday. The Clifts, Smiths, Marcys, Nowaks, N. Heikoop, A. Esposito and I had gathered at the Clifts for an American Thanksgiving (it was a Japanese holiday that day, so everyone had the day off to travel). Between a wonderful home-made dinner and a three-kinds-of-pie-plus-apple-tarts-with-icecream dessert, we retired to the living room to sing with one another. Beyond just the real and general friendliness of creating music with people, singing music with words like the hymns we chose seemed to reflect a special bond I find everywhere I meet these kinds of Christians. Each person there sung with their hearts open. We sung words about struggles, pain, healing, forgiveness, and a gentle and uplifting love that will not let us go. We sang about God, our provider, protector, and friend. Some early Christmas carols even made an appearance, exultant about the solid hope and help that the existence, actions, and teachings of Jesus Christ offers to anyone who wants such a thing as solid hope, for anyone who wants life and life abundant.
For me, thinking is preferable to feeling. And if I’m going to feel, I like to think about why I’m feeling what I am before I commit to admitting to feeling anything. I had been feeling sad when I arrived at the Clifts’ house, perhaps because of homesickness, perhaps because of being physically run-down, but, before I could even fully understand the becauses, over the friendship, food, and the singing, the sadness was comforted, and happiness sent out a warm little blossom instead. What a joy there is in giving thanks with others who also have so much to be thankful for — each person recalling individual struggles and God’s help along the way. What a joy there is in having the discord gently tuned out of a tired heart and singing sweet praises instead!
The peaceful love of that afternoon lasted even as I missed my train on my return trip and found myself with a spare hour in the late-night cool of the empty train platform. My phone turned to Psalm 139, and more of our college-days’ music, choral music this time, flooded back to me.
“If I ascend into heaven you are there,
on the wings of the morning.
And in my deepest despair,
your hand shall lead me. Your right hand shall guide me.
Though darkness shall cover me, light will surround me.
And I will praise your name. I will praise your name. I will praise it with my whole heart.”