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How Can I Keep from Singing?
Commentary by Mary Preus
April 21, 1998
Click for audio RealAudio 2.0 14.4

Part of the MPR News project Religion in Everyday Life

Americans are hungry for spiritual meaning; many are searching for "reason" in life. As part of our continuing series on religion in everyday life, Minnesota Public Radio has asked individuals to reflect on what faith means to them and the role it plays in their lives. Musician Mary Preus is as likely to express her faith through singing as she is through speech.

(SINGING) MY FAITH LOOKS UP TO THEE, Thou Lamb of Calvary, Savior divine. Now hear me while I pray, take all my guilt away, let me from this day, be wholly Thine.

It was in the singing of hymns that I began to understand Lutheran theology. And more important to me as a child, the nature of my relationship to God and Jesus. My family is big on singing hymns.

My mother is a singer and taught piano lessons in our home, and my father, a Lutheran parish pastor who inherited a lusty hymn-singing style from his musical parents. I have vivid aural memories of Midwestern Lutheran congregations gathered in acoustically perfect wood or brick churches that sang with conviction and devotion. Everyone sang - women and men.

Now in the middle of my life, as a professional singer and worship leader, I appreciate deeply the love of music that was passed on to me. And also the expression of faith that shaped me through the singing of hymns.

Don't get me wrong. I rebelled. I left home and the church for a large part of my young adult life. I needed to find out if I could reconcile my immature, emotionally based faith with the new knowledge I was acquiring.

It was the end of the war in Vietnam. I was skeptical, I was hurt. I was beginning to feel the toll of sexism on my life and the lives of women around me. At this point in time, organized religion looked like part of the problem. Through the power of prayer, on the part of my parents, and the knowledge deep within me that I am indeed wholly God's, I came back to the church with all of my doubts and questions. I had the opportunity to witness the faith of Christian brothers and sisters from around the world, who showed me the courage, strength, and power of God's good news in their lives. I joined and helped to lead a couple of wonderful women's spiritual and singing groups. These people helped me to heal, and encouraged my now more complex relationship with God and the world.

I have come full circle in my church life - but not back to the same place. Today I am part of an ecumenical Christian community that lifts up and lives out Jesus's model of peace and justice in the midst of this country, which continues to worship gods of war, violence, and consumerism. I also currently lead the singing in a small, Lutheran congregation - one that works to live out their faith, and that also love to sing. These communities of faith, along with my circle of family and friends, inspire me and keep me whole. Now my faith is integral to my life, and I struggle, but not alone, to make it a part of each moment. It's in singing that I'm able to express my gratitude to the Holy One, for the great gifts of love and life. And through singing, I voice my continued longing for Shalom: a whole and harmonious relationship with God and all of creation.

(Singing) My life flows on in endless song, above Earth's lamentation. I hear the real, though far off, hymn, that hails a new creation. Through all the tumult and the strife, I hear that music ringing. It sounds an echo in my soul. How can I keep from singing?