The Hymnal

If you grow up in a church, you sing songs.  If you grow up Christian Reformed, they come from a hymnal, and that hymnal is loved.  People will go to great lengths to defend the hymnal.  Many CRC churches have a little plague that has slots for numbers, and each week the numbers are rotated; the numbers signify the page in the book that will be each week's hymns.  

I would often page through to the numbers, looking forward to the hymn we'd sing each week.  Some of the best songs - and words - sung and written are found in those pages.  "Be Thou My Vision" and "Amazing Grace" being two that immediately come to mind.  

Songs we sing in our youth have power.  They can implant themes and words to turn to in dark times, perspectives through which to see the world.  They can provide prayers that work through adulthood.  If I sing I find myself in a dark place, and sing the words of "Amazing Grace", things tangibly improve.  But I also learned a really important lesson about reading through the pages of the hymnal.

At the elementary school I went to - Creston Christian, we'd have weekly assemblies, like a chapel, and we'd have mini-church services.  We'd sing a lot of (what I'd call the better) hymns.  When you sing these week after week, and go to a lot of assemblies, you memorize at least some of the words, but I'd often get stuck on verse two.  The books are laid out on pages that have sheet music accompanying the words.  On the left side of the first words were numbers, and but I never knew what they meant.  I read plenty of books, and in a book, (typically) the words go across from left to right, and then down a page; once you hit the bottom of a page, you begin at the top of the next, also in a left to right fashion.  

So I'd be sitting there, trying to sing, but after the first line of a hymn, I'd be lost.  Everyone else would be reading something, but I'd be missing out.  I'd be signing the thing next to the next number (verse number) and be way off.  I'd only be on if I happened to know the song or the chorus.  

I remember being quite frustrated by this, especially because I like signing.  It was the only part of the service where we could be active, and as good little CRC kids, they were training us to sing from hymn books.  So I'd be lost.  

Until one day, when we were singing a song I knew (I believe it was the one that says 'I saw a tree by the river side').  I sang the first line, and then the words jumped out.  I noticed that rather than being right under the line we were singing, the words were under the next bar of music, and the next line of song was under the next bar and so on and so on.  When we hit the chorus, there was only one line and everyone sang it, and then you'd go back to the start of the first page, just under the title, when you wanted to sing the next verse.  

We finished the 'tree song', and moved on to the next one.  The same thing fit.  You sang one line and skipped to the next music thingy, and sang that.  The process repeated.  

I still remember the feeling of learning this.  I'd be so frustrated at each thing, but didn't have the words to even ask the question of how to read the book.  I knew how to read a book.  The thing I didn't know was that not all books are the same.  It might sound really basic, but I wanted to give someone a high five, and cheer together when I learned that.  There was a real sense of frustration before that day, and it was alleviated once I had new knowledge.  

But the thing is that I remember that day and that knowledge.  I think the reason is that it's so easy to assume that other people know the things that we do, or that they're supposed to know, or that we think they should know.  But they might not.  They may not even have the language to ask the proper questions to gain the necessary knowledge, so patience is key.  Once you know the information, it won't be unknown, and the pride in the knowledge overtakes and lasts much longer than the frustration did.  

Knowing how to read the hymnal allowed me to sing the second and third verses of some pretty amazing songs, things I was unable to do before I knew how to read the hymn book.  So maybe what I'm saying is that it's important to practice patience; it's important to ask the right questions or help people learn things that we assume they should know.  Perhaps doing so allows us to help, rather than judge, and allows others to partake in the beauty, rather than miss out in silent frustration.