‘Make a joyful noise ...’

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Nina loved to sing. She was solidly into her 80s and her health was still pretty good and she loved to come to the Northside Shepherd’s Center, a senior day center for lower-income older adults, where I was the associate director.

Every Wednesday, we had a Bible study where a local preacher would come and give a devotion and those gathered would sing hymns. Nina was faithful in her attendance and, as our custom was to have the participants name which hymns they wished to sing, she’d often make a request or two. She’d turn to the correct page in the second-hand hymnal that a local church donated after they bought new ones and she’d smile and sing along.

But she was off. Way off. Not only did she sing in her own key, she sang in her own time. Nina was classified as “profoundly” hearing impaired. I don’t know how much hearing she had left, but with her signature smile on her face, her high, off-pitch voice, she contributed a voice to the Lord’s heavenly chorus.

When we’d start a new hymn she’d still be singing the previous hymn, until someone tapped her and helped her find the new page. She’d come back to earth from her musical prayer and join in on the new hymn. She knew every hymn. I don’t think we ever sang one that she didn’t know.

One day, during one of these Bible studies, the nurse and I sat in, and after the guest pastor dismissed with the final hymn, Nina still sat smiling and singing as usual; not only the wrong pitch, but on the wrong line. She sat singing and smiling with her half-closed eyes right through the benediction, in her own little world of prayer.

The nurse, Kathy, and I looked at each other with tears in our eyes. Kathy said to me, “Nina just sings and sings.” Both our eyes were welled over with tears. We were crying, not of sadness that she could no longer hear her own singing, but crying that she sung so prayerfully unto the Lord no matter what she sounded like. Her love for music and her love for the Lord were as “profound” as her hearing impairment and deafness would not stop her.

Kathy and I cried together because her witness in that way-off singing said more to us about love for the Lord than the most articulate evangelist in the world. We cried because we knew that when we heard Nina’s voice we were hearing the heavenly chorus of angels.

I don’t think Nina ever knew what a powerful witness she was and she’d probably have been surprised to learn that just singing a song would be so moving to others.

Her story makes me wonder in what ways our spiritual hearing is profoundly impaired, and how we might sing to the Lord — not in spite of the impairment — but because of it.

“1 Make a joyful noise to the Lord, all the earth. 2 Worship the Lord with gladness; come into his presence with singing. 3 Know that the Lord is God. It is he that made us, and we are his; we are his people, and the sheep of his pasture. 4 Enter his gates with thanksgiving, and his courts with praise. Give thanks to him, bless his name. 5 For the Lord is good; his steadfast love endures forever, and his faithfulness to all generations.” (Psalm 100, NRSV)

Sally Oakes is pastor of Bethany United Methodist Church, 607 Rivers Road, Fayetteville, GA 30214. Phone: 770-964-6999 or 770-964-6992, or e-mail bethanymnc@bellsouth.net.

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