“When she was in the kitchen, she would hum—not a steady tone, but entire melodies. Her humming was never soft and intimate, but loud and firm, as if she were humming for an audience. As a small child, if I knew the song she was humming, sometimes I would hum along with her, and my body would experience safety and settledness.” (Menakem, My Grandmother’s Hands, p. 272)
Do you remember… What it’s like to stand in the ocean? Picture the scene: you’re waist-deep and the water is chilly but just cold enough to be delightful. You’re with your favorite people. You’re having a lovely time. You’re laughing. And then a wave hits you in the face and your mouth fills with saltwater. It makes you want to just go and soak up some sun on the beach. Then you remember, “Hey I love being in the ocean,” so you dive under the next wave (with your mouth shut this time!)… When you come up on the other side you float on your back for a while feeling the waves gently rock your body up and down… You have to remember not to stand still. Especially to not stand still with your mouth open! And you have to remember that it will be salty and challenging and exciting and fun!
Do you also remember… Back in March when the world began to turn upside down? We thought it would all be over by Easter. Then the onslaught of podcasts, blogs, papers, research, and news items began. First deaths came in 10s, then 100s, now 1,000s. We suddenly found ourselves drinking saltwater.
Do you remember… The first article you read about music now being a problem in worship? For me, that was the day when I wanted to throw up my hands and say, “That’s it! No more.”
For all churches, the pandemic has meant an end—an end to so many things. Perhaps not forever. But perhaps for far longer than we care to admit. Even to ourselves. There are moments when we’ve wondered if rather than swim, we will instead drown or simply go lie on a beach somewhere until this is all over.
But how do we remember all these things and then move forward?
Especially when we consider the ways we love to worship God with music and song in our gatherings?
This is both an end and a beginning. The adventure starts right here as we plan for the next year (or two) and wonder at what they hold. What an amazing moment this is as we get to re-think and re-dream and pray with hope for God to teach us new ways to worship. We get to shape worship for a whole new generation!
The first challenge for our small community was to make music sound halfway decent on Zoom. We battled with our settings and had some small victories through balanced mics on wicker hampers and screens draped with quilts to deaden the echo. Eventually, we went back to our sanctuary to pre-record our worship services. The sound was better. But the people were missing.
And now the second salty onslaught—how do we gather together safely AND include musical worship? How do we dive deep and float up? How do we make this opportunity a glorious one?
Beth DeRiggi (our marvelous Music Director) and her team took on this challenge on behalf of our small church Incarnation Anglican in South Arlington, VA, and came up with a number of ideas. One idea was dreaming about humming in worship might be like. Why? How? When? Is it even a good idea?
And then I read My Grandmother’s Hands by Resmaa Menakem, and it answered so many of our questions! The author is a highly respected trauma therapist, and his anecdotes of his grandmother’s humming resonated with us.
This quote blew me away:
“Many Black bodies have proven very resilient, in part because, over generations, African Americans have developed a variety of body-centered responses to help settle their bodies and blunt the effects of racialized trauma. These include individual and collective humming, rocking, rhythmic clapping, drumming, singing, grounding touch, wailing circles, and call and response, to name just a few.” (Resmaa Menakem, My Grandmother’s Hands, p. 59)
There are many things that have challenged, delighted, and informed me in My Grandmother’s Hands, but one of the most intriguing ideas has been the ways that the author talks about the benefits of humming. Menakem is not alone in identifying the ways that humming settles our bodies and minds, which is an important part of bringing our attention and focus to the God whom we worship. Not only might humming be a workable solution, but also a delightful one and one that would both enable us to worship whilst also increasing our resilience in a chaotic time. Reading this felt like diving beneath the waves and coming up with a smile on my face.
How lovely that we can still be tuneful… that we can still pay attention to words and rhythms and joyful cadences… and although we may not sing robustly together for a while, what fun to learn to hum our praises. “Let’s hum together as we worship God.”
Our community is young (in that we are a two-year-old church plant), flexible, and enthusiastic about ‘trying stuff.’ So asking them to hum felt pretty normal. Our music team was on board, so we’ve simply been looking for moments when we can gently encourage people to join in—perhaps for a verse or two. And then, maybe when they are out for a walk in the woods they can also hum their thanks to God.
But, ultimately, what we are also preparing for is the day when we gather together for worship again. When we want to protect each other from the virus. When we want to be in the same enclosed space and express our love for God in robust, corporate worship without fear of it having negative consequences for others.
So how to hum?
Just do it! When you are listening to worship music, put your hand on your tummy or under your chin, and ‘feel the hum.’ Let your body settle, and focus on a phrase or portion of Scripture. Here is one of our worship leaders, Jamie, helping us hum! Here’s another fun video helping you practice humming.
But is there more? Of course!
So what other options are there for music?
One other idea that our church has embraced started with the reminder that during virtual worship services we can ‘go’ anywhere in the world. We can be led by people in different cultures and languages, with bands, with choirs, and with hope we can remember that we are part of a global Church facing a global problem. Our loving Creator God made music and bodies that hum and created us all to be people that worship him! So each week for our offertory song we bring in others—videos from our mission partners, friends, and people from other countries or cultures who would never be able to come lead worship for our small community in South Arlington! So grateful for all those who are sharing their worship online!
What new ideas do you have for musical worship? Why not share them! There’s a comment section below—go for it! Then, let’s learn to hum together.
The Rev. Dr. Liz Gray is the Rector of Incarnation Anglican Church in the Diocese of the Mid-Atlantic. Incarnation is a community that delights to “worship, welcome and wonder” in South Arlington, VA. Liz (ironically?) wrote her doctoral thesis on the positive nature of touch in pastoral ministry, so she is looking forward to some return to normal eventually!