How Can I Keep From Singing?


How can I keep from singing?

Each Saturday around 7:40pm, I look down at Geoff Burdell’s hands.

As we sing the closing hymn, I dart my eyes from Fr. Gerry’s exit to Geoff’s hands. All while harmonizing, we communicate with a fist signaling the end is near or holding up the final verse number. This week, when I signaled a fist, Geoff held up a 3. We went for that final verse.

Have you ever stared a silent, closed-mouth person in the face whilst encouraging them to sing? It’s an awkward, uncomfortable experience for me. So, when Geoff held up that 3, my stomach twisted. Fr. Gerry had left, the congregation wanted to leave, but I was staring at them, encouraging them to pray with us in song for one more verse.

How can I keep from singing?

During college, when I sang the hymn, “How Can I Keep from Singing?”, the thought of not singing in Mass baffled me. Prayer through music brought me joy as it provided a proper expression of the gratitude I felt. It provided a melody to physically manifest the ebbs and flows of life. How could you keep from singing?! In the reality of living among a new community, within a new congregation, and in a new country, this question has been marinating in my mind all year.

We are kept from singing because it lengthens an already “chore” of an experience. We don’t like to sing. We don’t want to sing. We want to go home. We want to have brunch. We want to watch whatever sporting event has already started. We don’t know how to sing or the music is too difficult to follow. Whatever the reason, a once rhetorical question now has many answers.

“Through all the tumult and the strife, I hear the music ringing. It sounds and echoes in my soul. How can I keep from singing?”

During the Gospel this weekend, if you attend one, two, or four Masses like the Dublin House of Brigid members, you walked on the road to Emmaus. In one of my favorite passages, Catholics are called to ask themselves: “Were not our hearts burning within us while he talked with us on the road and opened the Scriptures to us?”

Recognition of joy can start within. Who nurtures your heart? Where do you go to find peace and solace? What makes you laugh and cry with happiness? When does your heart burn within you?

Whether it comes through music or movies, it is a gift to feel joy. As a woman of faith, I am called to understand God as the source of this joy, this love, this burning heart. Much like the two on the road to Emmaus, however, I can alter my vision, and be kept from seeing God. I am kept from singing. In a world of violence, mercilessness, and impatience, it is easier to end the song early. In a world that gives us plenty of reason to doubt our voices, our faith challenges us to sing, to proclaim that death does not have the final word.
When faced with the option, always sing verse 3. How can we keep from singing?