Sacred Music Sunday: How Can I Keep from Singing?

enyaI love the hymn “How Can I Keep from Singing,” written by the 19th century Baptist minister and composer Robert Lowry.  Dr. Lowry also wrote “I Need Thee Every Hour” and “Shall We Gather at the River,” among other hymns that are unfamiliar to me.

First, the text:

1 My life flows on in endless song;
above earth’s lamentation,
I hear the clear, though far-off hymn
that hails a new creation. [Refrain]

2 Through all the tumult and the strife,
I hear that music ringing.
It finds an echo in my soul.
How can I keep from singing? [Refrain]

3 What though my joys and comforts die?
I know my Savior liveth.
What though the darkness gather round?
Songs in the night he giveth. [Refrain]

4 The peace of Christ makes fresh my heart,
a fountain ever springing!
All things are mine since I am his!
How can I keep from singing? [Refrain]

No storm can shake my inmost calm
while to that Rock I’m clinging.
Since love is Lord of heaven and earth,
How can I keep from singing?

Next, a couple of recordings.  I like this hymn best performed by a soloist, and I still like Enya’s version, even if the 80’s/90’s synth accompaniment is a bit dated.  Mack Wilberg also wrote a nice version of it for the Tabernacle Choir.

I love this hymn because I love to sing, and though I’m not a wonderful singer, I find many of my most transcendent spiritual moments happen while singing.  The opportunity to sing frequently is a not-insignificant reason why I keep coming to church.  So I relate to the question, How can I keep from singing?

Music is a vehicle for spiritual connection to God, but according to this text it’s also a metaphor for it.  That far-off hymn, that music, finds a resonant echo in the soul.  God’s spirit resonates with the human spirit because they are ultimately made of the same stuff[1], new creation.


[1] I was thinking more about this, about how two objects don’t  have to be made of exactly the same stuff to resonate with one another.  For instance a tuning fork tuned to A-440 will resonate with a perfectly tuned guitar string and vice versa, even though one is metal and the other is nylon.  But they are both made to resonate at 440 Hz.  So in that sense they are the same, and certainly they respond to the same vibrations in the air.  Anyway, it’s just a metaphor, and all metaphors have their limits.

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3 Responses

  1. Violadiva says:

    Such a great song! Thank you for reminding me about it. Perfect “sounds of the Sabbath”

  2. Patty says:

    I love this song too. We have great musicians in our war, our organist particularly. His preludes and hymn introductions (often startlingly wonderful!) keep me ( a truly indifferent, but appreciative musician) coming to church.

  3. This is my FAVORITE song ever!

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