Shannon Sonderman Daughter of God, Teacher, Vocalist
When I was young, I was able to interact with God in many different ways. As I got older, people talked about a personal relationship with our living God, and I thought that sounded good, so I began to speak to God more just in my spare time. Instead of getting “bored” during the downtime, I would try to talk to God about what was going on in my life and what I was thankful for within my young life. This is how I thought I was supposed to build a personal relationship, but it was often hard for me because I don’t see the responses to my questions and searches. I know now that those answers are there, but I just don’t speak the same language as God. Occasionally, it is still hard for me to continue my relationship with God in that personal and close-friend way.
I find that the best way for me to build upon this relationship is through music. From a young age, I have always loved to sing and would sing in Church. This love for singing started in my Church. Every Sunday, we would sing familiar songs and others that were new. Soon these new songs would become a part of my musical memory. These church songs are a part of my whole being. They could not be separated from my religious experience. Through these songs, I grew to have a deeper understanding of the readings, gospels, and homilies from the weekly mass celebration.
One of my teachers mentioned that “singing is like praying twice” this simple line has stuck with me throughout the years. As I got older, I clung to that idea of singing as a type of prayer. I began to sing more and more inside and out of Church. And, I found that as I grew, so did my love of singing. I found that through this singing, I could share my love of God with others. I could express prayer in song with others and help them understand what I was feeling through the words of the song. I so often find that my prayer, through song, brings joy into this world for me and for others.
"Singing is praying twice".
When I sing, I try to not just sing the words and notes, but to sing the words with meaning. It is also amazing to me when I am listening to a Priest or Deacon give the homily, they will say something, and it will immediately pull me into a song that is about that topic. The songs that I haven’t heard will come flooding back clear because of a single line that was said. When this happens, I am reminded that songs are connected to the scriptures. There are verses embedded in every Catholic liturgical song from the Bible. I can’t help but wonder if this is a way that people learned about God before the written word was accessible to the masses.
These songs help me fight through hard, good, sad, joyful, and confusing times within my life. There is a song for every emotion that we will feel throughout our lives. God understands us completely. He feels our feelings, and he is there to help us through them. When I am having a hard time with something, I often find myself turning to a song to talk to God about what is going on in my life. He is able to hear my prayers within the notes and words that I sing to him. In this way, liturgical music has helped me to realize that these unpleasant emotions that I was feeling are okay to have. Through prayerful songs, I will get through these feelings and process what God is attempting to tell me through them, all the while being supported by God.
While I was writing this, I was listening to a playlist, and Oceans by Hillsong United came on 3 separate times. This song is talking about not being strong enough alone without God. But with him, we will have the strength to strive above whatever obstacle is put in our path. There have been times in my life that I feel like I am drowning, and there is nothing that will be able to pull me to the surface, but then I remember that God is always there to pull me up. It does take me a bit to get to that point sometimes, but music helps me get back in tune with God, then I can seek comfort in God’s embrace.
If you think talking and crying is hard, just try to sing and cry at the same time. Almost impossible...
I think that many of us are blessed with a “musical memory, so to speak. Music is a way to remember the time that we have passed on this Earth. Have you ever had a song pull you back to specific moments in your life? One that always pulls me back through the past is “On Eagle’s Wings”. I sang this song with my brother at our Grandfather’s funeral. This is the song that my Grandfather loved most and requested that it be sung at his funeral by my brother and myself. Singing that song during the funeral mass was one of the hardest moments of my life. Throughout the song, we said good-bye to our Grandfather, allowing God to take him home. If you think talking and crying is hard, just try to sing and cry at the same time. Almost impossible. I poured all of the memories of my Grandfather into that song and offered him up to God.
Throughout this song, I always remember that God is greater and still there lifting us up to him. No matter what happens in life, “under his wings your refuge, His faithfulness your shield,” He is always there to protect and shelter. This is also true in death; he is there to bring you up to his loving embrace. When I hear this song now, I am pulled back to the Church where my brother and I sang this for my Grandfather’s funeral, and I am reminded that he is with God now in heaven and that he is looking over us.
I have learned while singing that I am never alone even when singing by myself as there are choirs of angels there to singing alongside me. I also often sing within the congregation. And together, although many of us are untrained singers, we sing for the love of God and the love of community. This congregational singing is something that I grew to love. When we sing with others being supported by their voices, it does not matter the quality of our own individual voice. No matter what happens throughout the song, the others singing alongside you are there and will not let the song pitter out. They will build you back up if something happens within the song that each person singing. Communal prayer and thanksgiving to our creator are the reasons why we gather as a community at Mass on Sundays. We can allow music to be another form of this communal prayer; if we raise our voices in song united with the rest of the singing congregation. We support each other through this active participation in prayerful music. By singing collectively in mass, each member of the congregation is there to support you; just as you are there to support them within these songs of praise. Will you join your voice with the congregation? Will you be united with us in these hymns of praise to our good and gracious God?