By: Ellen Nimmo
Last night I was sung to.
Two women, in a group I have been part of for several years, volunteered to sing to the small assembly gathered via a Zoom meeting. The songs were religious in their nature, but filled with a tenderness that religion itself can’t muster. Meek and raw, the voice of their song(s) had the heartfelt and heartening effect that only faith can produce. Reza Aslan, a religious scholar, explains it better than I do:
“Faith is personal and mysterious and individualistic and inexpressible and indefinable. Religion is merely the language that you can use to express what is fundamentally inexpressible, to define what is undefinable”
Somewhere between twenty to thirty folks were on this virtual, video call last night. It was on this call we were sung to, but that came after. First we all fumbled with audio and angles and took in the familiar faces scattered around our screens. Some sat in their kitchens, some in their home offices, some sat on their living room couch. Some felt “zoomed out.” Others, it was their first time. A cat sauntered by the camera in the lower left corner, dusting the camera lens with its tail. Someone got up to refill their water. Someone sneezed. Another coughed. As we got settled, a story was told.
This story was a story of friendship and loss. The woman who told the story was also one who would later sing to us. She shared about the relationship. How it budded and bloomed. How in the intimacy they built, her friend expressed to her that she felt she just could never do enough to get right with God. She had regret. She felt she wasted days and time and didn’t do all she could have or should have. Linda, my singing friend, comforted, compelled by her belief. She told her friend, well, it really isn’t up to us to “do enough” for God, it is all about Jesus.
For Linda’s friend, in hearing and understanding this, a weight was lifted. They prayed together and then Linda sang her a song. Her friend died the following week.
She sang the same song to us at the end of our meeting. Some closed their eyes, some sang along, some nodded. A strange scene all in all.
You might be asking yourself, why were these women singing to a group over the internet on a Tuesday night? Why were they sharing these stories? I think the short answer is, simply, to encourage. The lighting was bad, the audience tired, there was no money to be had, no photos or autographs were taken or given and the voices, at times, shaky. I surmise that the gesture was genuine and beyond that, it worked. God bless them.
Truth is, I don’t know anyone’s heart, not through and through, but what I have observed over time is that this group of caregivers have a genuine desire to give care. As they might put it – “to be the hands and feet of Christ.” The group’s name comes from a character in the bible, Stephen.
Traditionally viewed as the “first Christian martyr”, Stephen was stoned to death for his belief, as it is recorded in the book of Acts:
59 While they were stoning him, Stephen prayed, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.” 60 Then he fell on his knees and cried out, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.” When he had said this, he fell asleep.
If that sounds familiar it might be because Stephen sounds a whole lot like Jesus did, right before he died on the cross (Luke 23:43 and 46) and while we don’t know much about Stephen we know that he was brought before his accusers as they stood in judgement of him. As their hurled stones hit him, Stephen cried out asking God to forgive them and that Jesus receive his spirit. Stephen trusted Jesus with his soul, his very life.
I don’t know what you think about Jesus or Stephen. I don’t know what your thoughts are on God or the line of good and evil that runs through every heart. I don’t know your thoughts on sin or the need for forgiveness. I don’t know what your experience has been with church or parents or people in general. I don’t know what stories you’ve told yourself lately and I don’t know when the last time you were sung to was. Do you?
Suffice to say, there’s a lot I don’t know. But…
I was sung to.
In the hope to encourage me through this difficult season where we are separated from our friends and families, I was sung to. To remind me there are people out there that care, I was sung to. In the name of not having to “do enough” to be accepted by God, I was sung to. To refresh my spirit, I was sung to.
Can I sing to you now?
I am. And the best part is, you don’t have to listen to it, but it is there all the same. I’m singing because I want you to feel what I felt last night – we aren’t alone. There are people, flawed people that genuinely care for us and we don’t have to earn our way into a personal, mysterious, inexpressible relationship with God.
Being part of that Stephen Ministry group has taught me many things, but some of the most important have been that from time to time we all need a hand to hold, someone to listen to us, encourage us, remind us that God is full of forgiveness and mercy. That He is a well of love, water for thirsty souls. And, occasionally, a song sung can be the melody which wraps it all together.