Last week, I shared our family’s newest tradition: Marble Jars–a way to treasure our time with our children.
This week I want to share another of our traditions, singing a hymn as a family around the table before we pray for the meal. Whereas I wonder if the luster of nostalgia connected to the Marble Jars will wear a bit in time, the hymn-sing is a tradition that I believe will be powerful after the cumulative effect of years of practicing it. The idea for our family hymn-sing was rooted in the conjunction of several thoughts…
Thanksgiving was my first holiday in Africa far from home and family. It’s not celebrated here. I had a difficult time making it feel like Thanksgiving without the emotional connections I had to certain traditions–that either required more or certain people or certain foods I couldn’t get here. Ever since then I’ve thought about traditions–their importance, as well as what traditions I could establish for our own family.
Then I read a book by Noel Piper, Treasuring God in Our Traditions. I was again impressed with the value of traditions and determined again to plan some lasting traditions for our family.
Around the same time, I was also concerned that my children learn the great hymns of our faith. I was afraid they would not have the opportunity here in Africa to learn many of the hymns I grew up with, especially in English.
Then I finally found time to start reading a book my husband wanted me to read called How Christianity Changed the World. I started with the chapter on music, which began with comments about how Jesus and His disciples sang a hymn before they left the upper room to go to the Garden of Gethsemane. The following two sentences from a section titled “Music in the Early Church” impressed me especially:
“Clement of Alexandria (late second century) says Christians also sang at mealtimes and before retiring at night. Tertullian (ca. AD 198) states that Christians sang as lamps were brought in at suppertime.”
Ding, ding! A bell went off in my head as I envisioned the lamps coming in, early robe-wearing Roman Christians singing in the catacombs below their city before they broke bread together. What better way to combine my two desires–meaningful, God-treasuring traditions and learning great hymns of the faith as a family!
I pictured beginning a hymn as I put the final dish on a lovingly prepared table, teenagers running to join me and picking out a line of harmony as we sing beautifully, hearts and hands joined, around our table. The song ends in perfect blend, a hush, and then the leader of our home says the blessing for our meal.
Well, we’re not the Von Trapps; in fact, you may feel like fleeing over the mountains with them when you hear us. So far no one in my family has shown my ear for matching pitch. Our singing sometimes includes the high-pitched wails of girl-toddler because mischievous brother refuses to hold her hand, in cacophonous harmony with boy-toddler’s pedal-tone whining because he can’t begin eating the food right in front of him! Colin starts swinging his arms vigorously to accompany the music and sends himself careening right off his chair, and Caleb’s eyebrows are furrowed as he tries to remember both the lyrics and how to match his voice to the tune at the same time.
But for about a year and a half now, we have sung one hymn a month, usually a different verse per week. Someday maybe it will be like my visions; but even if it’s not, I believe that those daily drops of strong theology entering my children’s heads by way of memorable melody and rhythm will equal a fountain of eternal joy for them one day.
(Homeschoolers who adhere to Charlotte Mason’s advice on education will also be delighted to find that this tradition nicely implements her emphasis on learning hymns.)
Here is our hymn for this month when we are emphasizing being thankful:
Let All Things Now Living
by Katherine K. Davis
Let all things now living a song of thanksgiving
To God the Creator triumphantly raise;
Who fashioned and made us, protected and stayed us,
Who still guides us on to the end of our days.
God’s banners are o’er us; His light goes before us—
A pillar of fire shining forth in the night—
Till shadows have vanished and darkness is banished,
As forward we travel from light into light.
His law He enforces; the stars in their courses
And sun in its orbit obediently shine.
The hills and the mountains, the rivers and fountains,
The deeps of the ocean proclaim Him divine.
We, too, should be voicing our love and rejoicing;
With glad adoration a song let us raise
Till all things now living unite in thanksgiving:
“To God in the highest, hosanna and praise!”