Singing and Resistence

I was thinking about singing the other day. Because when you think about it that's what Christians do more than anything else. We spend most of our time singing.

And I wondered, Why is that? Why are we commanded to sing? What's so important about singing?

Because, again, when you step back and think about it this is an interesting point of distinction. If I never went to church I wouldn't sing a whole lot. Yeah, I'd sing here and there with the radio or strumming my guitar. But not like or as much as I sing at church. At the end of the day if I don't go to church I sing hardly at all.

Christians, it seems, are a people who sing.

Pondering this, the following story from the book of Acts came to mind, the story of Paul and Silas's arrest in Philippi:
Acts 16.22-25
The crowd joined in the attack against Paul and Silas, and the magistrates ordered them to be stripped and beaten with rods. After they had been severely flogged, they were thrown into prison, and the jailer was commanded to guard them carefully. When he received these orders, he put them in the inner cell and fastened their feet in the stocks.

About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the other prisoners were listening to them.
I wonder why Paul and Silas were singing in jail. They had just been savagely beaten. They had open wounds, were bruised, were suffering from blood loss and they couldn't move much (even to relieve themselves) due to their feet being in stocks. They had to be feeling pretty grim.

And so they sang.

This made me think of the singing during the American Civil Rights Movement. Singing is what drove the movement. People would gather in churches and sing Freedom songs before going out to face angry mobs. And then they sang on the way to jail. And then they sang in the jail. They never stopped singing.


I think for the same reason Paul and Silas were singing. To keep their courage up. Singing is a way of resisting despair and fear. Singing is an act of resistance.

I've witnessed this myself. Some nights at the study I lead at a local prison I can tell the men are down, depressed, discouraged or despairing. Some weeks are hard weeks. And when I get a sense of this, that it's been a particularly hard week, before I get into my material I have them pass out the songbooks so that we can sing.

And once we start singing something starts to change. The singing gets better, louder. The mood becomes more hopeful. Spirits start to lift. Smiles start to appear.

And once we start they don't want to stop.

They keep calling out the numbers to hymns, and I keep my study notes tucked safely away, and we keep singing into the night.

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8 thoughts on “Singing and Resistence”

  1. Augustine has a wonderful passage about singing "as wayfarers do" - singing to lighten your load. "Sing, but keep going," he urges. I think that's a powerful reason we sing. And I love that image of the prisoners singing into the night.

  2. There is a great book I read in college by Blassingame called "The Slave Community" which talks about how songs and storytelling (think Uncle Remus) were methods of resistance by the slaves. There is a fantastic interview with a guy named Joe Carter on Krista Tippett's "On Being" podcast that furthers this by talking about the theology of the African-American spirituals, which I know would be right up your alley.



  3. I'd add that it's specifically *eschatological* resistance: we can sing because we know a deeper truth on which our hope is grounded, a truth that is coming and has now come. Moreover, we sing the songs of the kingdom so that when we arrive, we've been training to "fit" there all along.

    Reminds me of Butterflyfish's song "Music." The chorus goes: "We are going / to a place where music / falls and fills up everything. / Though it might be a long time / but it's gonna be alright / cause we've already started to sing . . ."

  4. Eric Bogle, the Scottish/Australian folk singer has a song called 'Singing the Spirit Home' in which he tells the story of a young black South African being taken from his cell to be executed. It is the sound of his fellow inmates singing that brings him the courage to face his fate. Great song, deep truth.

  5. "Paul and Silas bound in jail
    All night long
    Paul and Silas bound in jail
    All night long.
    Paul and Silas bound in jail
    All night long;
    Who shall deliver poor me?"
    --Flatt and Scruggs

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  7. Thank you for sharing these thoughts. It is interesting to see someone else point out that singing is a way of resistance. I have more recently experienced this myself while in moment of temptations the Spirit has led me to sing... and it is singing, not the verbal prayer, that literally causes the fear and temptation to dissipate. I thought maybe this was just because I am a singer that this worked. There is something so spiritual about songs. As a person who loves music, connects to God and encourages others through song, this post reminds me that I need to sing every day, every where I go- especially around my brothers and sisters. To keep our spirits focused on Jesus, to keep us strong :)

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