Don’t get me wrong. I am all for the use of new technology, new ways of communicating the faith, news tools for telling the old, old story. One of the positive by-products of the COVID years has been the development of on-line ministries in churches of every size. Zoom meetings and study groups engage snowbirds during the winter and on-line worship enables home-bound members to stay connected with their congregations. Video screens offer creative ways of enhancing worship and telling the story of the church’s work in the world.
But…There is still something about holding the book in your hands.
First, the Bible.
The invention of the Gutenberg printing press enabled common folks to actually hold the Bible in their hands and read it for themselves when previously it was literally chained to the pulpit and could only be read by the Priest. The new technology of the printing press made that possible and ever since the world has been blessed with ready access to the Scriptures in hundreds of languages on every continent. Though I do rely on the Bible-on-line in my study, reading from an actual book seems to give substance to the text. Favorite underlined verses speak to me from years past and turning the pages seems to make it more real. Whereas scripture on my phone or lap top disappears with the clip of a button, something about holding the book in my hands speaks to me of the solidity of the Scriptures across the centuries.
Second, the hymnal.
As a “Singing Methodist”, I believe holding the book in my hands adds to the experience of worship. Of course, video screens are great for getting worshipers to lift up their heads as they raise their in praise. But as the music pops up then disappears, the songs, prayers and liturgy come and go without any opportunity for continuity or personal reflection. I remember the days of “hymn sings” when people could actually call out the page numbers for their favorite hymns because they were so familiar with the book. (Methodists of a certain age will remember #68–Are Ye Able?, right?) Holding the hymnal in my hands reminds me we are not just making this up on the spot, but rather we are stepping into a stream of tradition with worshipers all the way back to Charles Wesley as we join our voices with their voices in song. And then, when the worship service is over, I can return to the book and reflect on the text on my own, hum it on the way home, and pluck out the notes on my piano or guitar.
So let’s celebrate the creative use of new technology in sharing the faith, but please don’t throw away the books.
Because there is just something about holding the book in your hands.
John Wesley’s Directions for Singing, 1761
Learn these tunes before you learn any others, afterwards learn as many as you please. Sing them exactly as they are printed here, without altering or mending them at all; and if you have learned to sing them otherwise, unlearn it as soon as you can.
- Sing All – see that you join the congregation as frequently as you can. Let not a slight degree of weakness or weariness hinder you. If it is a cross to you, take it up and you will find a blessing.
- Sing Lustily – and with good courage. Beware of singing as if you were half-dead or half-asleep; but lift up your voice with strength. Be no more afraid of your voice now, nor more ashamed of its being heard, than when you sang the songs of Satan.
- Sing Modestly – do not bawl so as to be heard above or distinct from the rest of the congregation that you may not destroy the harmony, but strive to unite your voices together so as to make one melodious sound.
- Sing in time – whatever time is sung, be sure to keep with it. Do not run before and do not stay behind it; but attend closely to the leading voices and move therewith as exactly as you can and take care not to sing too slow. This drawling way naturally steals on all who are lazy; and it is high time to drive it out from among us and sing all our tunes just as quick as we did at first.
- Sing spiritually – have an eye to God in every word you sing. Aim at pleasing Him more than yourself, or any other creature. In order to attend strictly to the sense of what you sing, and see that your heart is not carried away with the sound, but offered to God continually; so shall your singing be such as the Lord will approve here, and reward when he cometh in the clouds of heaven.