“I remembered my songs in the night.” Psalm 77:6
We were standing in an old country church in South Dakota—tin ceilings. There had been some additions: two wings had been added on either side of the front, far enough to get in an extra two rows of pews. The carpet was new, the paint fresh, but the place was, and still is, ancient, by prairie standards at least. It’s 130 years old, and no matter how diligently its people keep the place up, the lines of the whole old frame church still show its age.
My immigrant great-grandparents once walked, weekly, through those same front doors, then sat, with their five kids, beneath those tin ceilings. I’ve got history in that old church—that’s what I was thinking that day. Even if I’m the first great-grandchild, the first descendant in two generations ever to darken the front door, part of me is here.
We’d just come from an exhausting day along the Missouri River—some hiking, some sight-seeing—and we were stopping at this non-descript country church in the middle of a town well down the road toward dying. It was early June, and beautiful—the sun radiant, the emerald land we’d been driving through seemed empty of distraction and, honestly, full of God.
I don’t know where the hymn came from, but it bubbled up from somewhere in my childhood. I never considered it a favorite, hadn’t thought about it for years, sung it for decades. Long ago it was chased from the hymnal by more peppy stuff, I suppose. What came to me was a perfectly fitting opening line aboard a haunting melody that seemed perfect for time and circumstance.
So I asked the people whether they remembered “To the Hills I Lift My Eyes” from an old psalter. Average age on the tour bus was sixty-ish. They shrugged their shoulders, but that was enough of an assent, and besides I wasn’t about to be thwarted. So I started in, grabbing a pitch out of nowhere, and soon enough they were all with me because the first line hadn’t left anyone’s memory and it’s a very simple melody.
Together, we pieced together the lyrics because some of us knew enough of the lines so all of us could get through it without missing a beat.
The bright sun outside suggested the threat of mid-summer heat, but there was not a whisper of night in that church just then. I don’t care. When I hear Asaph’s voice in this line—“I remembered my songs in the night”—I think of that moment in that old church, and that moment’s blessedness, the joy of connecting with something so much greater than me or us or any of our individual stories, something ethereal. The only way to describe that moment was in music. I don’t know that I understand how and why, but sometimes there’s a beatitude that’s palpable in perfectly unreasonable things.
Those of us who believe know the hefty comfort of faith that begins in a fulsome sense of our belonging—we know whose we are.
I don’t think there can be a doubt about Asaph; he was a worrier. But what he’s telling us here in Psalm 77 is that the remembrance of things past—and especially the memory of what could only be sung, could only be spoken in song—was itself a testimony of an end to sadness. His remembered songs in the night didn’t end his sadness—read on. But a song in the night reminded him that once, at least, there was joy.
And if once, then why not again?