Singing Acapella

The conference program said that just before the message the vocalist would sing accompanied by tape. She had rehearsed this song numerous times in preparation for this event and the time had now come. Confidently on stage she waited for the music to begin. The sound operator looked up and made some motions. The unthinkable had happened. The tape had malfunctioned, and he didn’t have a back up. She knew there was a decision to make. Either leave the stage rather awkwardly calling attention to the problem or sing the song without the music. Out of the silence, strong and sure, the vocalist sang unaccompanied by the sound track. 

Can we sing the song of faith without the music? The prophet Habakkuk faced such a dilemma. The prophet wants to know why God is silent when the wicked hem in the righteous and justice is perverted?

What do we do in those times when we cannot hear the music on account of the screams of violence or from the noise of our own fearful chatter and cries for help? What do we do when things don’t go as expected, when our plans get thwarted, our dreams dashed, when our questions and our prayers go unanswered, when circumstances entrap us in prisons of disappointment and bring us to the brink of despair? Do we give up on faith and say it was all a mistake, all an illusion, that we were just kidding ourselves to think that we ever heard the music at all?

We do what the prophet did. We learn to live by faith (2:4). Old Testament scholar Walter Brueggemann points out that the righteous or just person is one who keeps God’s covenant, one who invests in the community, and is particularly attentive to the poor and needy.

Living by faith is not about getting our beliefs right, but about doing right things. It’s about being faithful to love God and love neighbor.

I like the way author Sara Miles has said this. Sara was raised an atheist, but for some reason wandered into an Episcopal church one day in San Francisco. She ate the bread and drank the wine and found that it somehow nourished her soul and quenched her thirst. She kept going back. She started a food pantry, right in the middle of their beautiful church sanctuary.

There are no forms to fill out. People come and choose what they want. The down-and-out, the addicted, the messed up, the homeless, all are welcome and all are treated with dignity. Sara and the other volunteers pray with those who want prayer, they listen and bless those who need a blessing. Those who come are considered part of their church community.

In her spiritual memoir titled, Take this Bread, she observed that what she learned about faith by directing and working in the pantry is that authentic faith is more about “orthopraxy” (right practice) than it is about “orthodoxy” (right belief).

She wrote, “I was hearing that what counted wasn’t fundamentalist theology or liberation or traditional or postmodern theology, it wasn’t denominations or creeds or rituals. It wasn’t liberal or conservative ideology. It was faith, working through love.” What mattered was faith working through love. 

How do we find the inner strength and power to be faithful when the music doesn’t play? We remember. In 3:2 as part of a song or psalm, the prophet begins by remembering: “O Lord, I have heard of your renown, and I stand in awe, O Lord, of your work.” The prophet was part of a faith tradition that rehearsed God’s mighty works in times past. The prophet prays: “Renew them in our day, in our time make them known” (3:2).  His cry for help is based on an inherited tradition of God’s salvation.

Again and again in Scripture the people of God are told to remember God’s great creative and redemptive acts. This is what we do when we celebrate Holy Communion. We remember how God made God’s self known to us through Jesus of Nazareth and how Jesus poured out his life for us even unto death. We remember his faithfulness and we celebrate this great revelation of love.

We may not feel worthy—it doesn’t matter. We may not feel close to God; we may feel like God is distant—it doesn’t matter. We may not be able to see beyond our own disappointment or hear beyond the cries of our own pain—it doesn’t matter. When we come together and partake of the bread and cup we are remembering what God has done for us, how God has acted in and through Jesus Christ to draw us into relationship with God’s self and to show us how to love and care for one another.

We also wait in hope. Sometimes, all we can do is wait for the music to start again and that is never easy. I remember watching the comedy show “Hee Haw” with my grandmother when I was a kid and one of the comedy pieces I loved was where Doc Campbell was treating a patient who said something like, “What do I do Doc, I broke my are arm in two places?” And the Doc said, “Well, stay out of them places.” 

The prophet finds himself in a place he could not avoid. We all do. The prophet knows it will get worse before it gets better, but he believes there will come a day when God will make all things right. In 2:14 the prophet envisions a day when the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord as the waters cover the sea.

The life and words of the prophet inspire us to be faithful as we remember redemptive encounters and as we wait in hope. 

Any of us could find ourselves in a place of brokenness and suffering with no way out. It may be at the graveside of a loved one, or in the throes of some great tragedy, or in the grip of a debilitating illness, or in the ruins of financial collapse.

Can we sing acapella? Can we sing the song of faith without accompaniment? With the help of our sisters and brothers, with the prayers, support, and encouragement of our faith community, and with the abiding presence of the Sprit of Christ inspiring us to remember and to wait in hope, I believe we can. 


  1. Interesting that it always seems to come back to to faith, hope, and love. And, like Paul and so many have suggested, all elements of life and creation (including faith and hope) are birthed in love, proceed from love, are sustained by love, and to love they return. It's almost as if we're living in a period of time where all of those secondary realities (faith, hope, knowledge, gifts, prophecies, even our deepest religious certainties) -- are failing, forcing us to return to love, the first, the last, the only eternal reality.


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