Wednesday, April 06, 2016

Worship (6)

Singing is such an important part of our corporate worship. We sing because we are commanded to sing. One need only look to the Psalms: Oh come, let us sing to the Lord; let us make a joyful noise to the rock of our salvation! (Psa. 95:1). Or to the letters of the Apostle Paul: Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God (Col. 3:16).

While we sing, first of all, because we are commanded to sing, it is also worth noting that singing is good for one's soul and body. In the past forty years I have had three occasions to be part of a choir and I always felt so well after choir practice. And then there is the weekly worship services where we sing together.

My experience is that singing is good, not only for the soul but also for the body. As a Christian I can understand easily enough why it is good for the soul. As John Calvin wrote in the preface to his commentary on the Psalms:
I have been accustomed to call this book, I think not inappropriately, “An Anatomy of all the Parts of the Soul;” for there is not an emotion of which any one can be conscious that is not here represented as in a mirror. Or rather, the Holy Spirit has here drawn to the life all the griefs, sorrows, fears, doubts, hopes, cares, perplexities, in short, all the distracting emotions with which the minds of men are wont to be agitated.
When we sing, especially the Psalms, we are together giving voice to all our personal and shared joys and fears. We know that we are part of a tribe, and it is good to belong. I can understand why singing is good for the soul, but why is it good for the body?

I came across this NPR article which linked to an article published in Frontiers in Psychology that shed light on my question. Researchers of the Sahlgrenska Academy at the University of Gothenburg in Sweden studied the heart rates of choir members as they sang together and discovered that choir music had a calming effect on the heart, especially when the choir sang in unison. Breathing in unison calms the heart.

So, if you feel physically rejuvenated after the singing of some Psalms and hymns, do not be surprised. Singing is not only a spiritual exercise, but also a physical one. Perhaps those who sing Genevan Psalms have an extra advantage. The tempo of Genevan tunes is governed by the pulse, about the same as the resting heart rate of an adult, typically about 70 beats per minute.

So, sing! Sing lustily, and feel well!