I read this morning that Israel sang a beer song to celebrate the Lord's provision (beer is Hebrew for well). It was pretty amazing to me. Israel was in the wilderness nearing the end of their journey, and needing water, God led them to a well to drink. The people responded by singing. This was not a deeply theological song, explicitly about God's wonderful provision and providence. Check it out:
Spring up, O well!—Sing to it!—
the well that the princes dug,
that the nobles of the people delved,
with the scepter and with their staffs.
Numbers 21:17, 18 (ESV)
This was a moment of communal joy, shared happiness and it naturally flowed out in shared song. I started to think about the place song had in the life of God's people throughout the history of redemption, and grew sad as I saw its absence today.
Song seems to have become art for the individual. It is something to receive but not really participate in. Because we think of song in terms of performance, it is either private for the individual or public for the talented. Outside of formal worship most of us really don't sing. We certainly don't sing together. I believe we are missing something valuable. Singing fosters community and shared experience. It can be cathartic for those who mourn, inspiring for those who rejoice and pleasurable for all. It can and should go beyond formal worship for the community of Jesus.
Reading that Israel sang together after being blessed made me think of the hobbits in the Lord of the Rings trilogy. They often sang together. It was a part of their culture. More than that, it was a part of their culture that reflected the kingdom of God. They danced, sang, and rejoiced together openly - freely. I want that for myself, my family, the church, us all. As we are writing more and more songs for public worship, perhaps we can begin to write songs for simple celebration. Songs that commemorate God's blessing in our own churches and families. Songs that tell our story as it fits into God's story.
Yeah, beer songs. We need more beer songs for the church to sing today.