If you went to chapel yesterday, you caught the latest installment of Favorite Song Stories. In 2012, Dr. Bruce McLarty had an inspired idea. He reached out to the Harding community and asked us to share a favorite Christian song and the personal story behind why it is so meaningful.
Responses came in, and they kept coming in. I’m so thankful he sent them to me and asked me to put them into a chapel program.
I’m even more grateful that he asked Dr. Mike Wood to lead the singing. In fact, the entire campus can be relieved that Dr. Wood directs the singing instead of me. Of course, having me lead would never have been an option. Technically, I am not supposed to sing on the Benson stage because of the restraining order.
At any rate, we heard from students and faculty. We heard from staff and alumni. We heard stories connected with classic hymns that have been sung in Christian worship for ages. We also heard stories inspired by contemporary songs. Some wrote about a special person in their lives who is forever connected with the words of a certain song. We heard about parents and grandparents, about teachers and ministers. Some songs were hummed by mothers in the kitchen, others whistled by fathers in the car. Some were sung at funerals of dear friends.
Some people shared moments in their lives when the words to a familiar song took on new meaning. Maybe it was a mountaintop experience when those words and music made the moment even better. When life is at its most sublime, songwriters have been there to give us the words for praise. Other times a song ushered someone through a valley. When a crushing diagnosis was given, when a beloved church building burned, when a lonely situation got worse, a Christian tune spoke straight to the heart — it helped.
A common refrain goes like this: “I have never sung that song the same way since.”
What all these stories have in common is the realization that the songs we sing in worship have meanings that go beyond the literal words. Naturally, the words express universal truths, yet often when we sing these favorite songs in church or in devotionals or even in private, they take on added significance because of other associations.
The people, the places, the moments in our lives that are linked with these tunes can have the same evocative power as a childhood toy or a cherished photograph. When I sing a song, I think about its words, but I also think about how often that song has been part of my story.
So does everyone else, which is why we received so many responses. Since we had far more than we could use in one chapel program, we had a second program, and then another. Now, eight years later, we still have one or two installments per semester.
My biggest takeaway from reading all these stories is that we are blessed with a rich heritage of music — old and new, formal and casual, mournful and upbeat. Songs of lament and praise. Songs of stately grandeur and humble simplicity. We all have our favorites, and it’s tempting to believe that the ideal worship experience would consist only of singing those songs.
But every time I hear someone share why another choice means so much, my own playlist expands a little. That song may not be one I like all that much. Yet I sing it with enthusiasm because I know the person who sits three rows behind me relied on those words in the hospital. Or because the woman who greets me in the cafeteria learned it from her grandmother. Or because a friend heard it in a time of national tragedy. Or because a teacher I know sang it beside the Sea of Galilee.
I have absolutely loved reading and sharing these stories for the past eight years. We have a pile of over 100 of them, from every corner of the Harding community. I hope we keep up this tradition for a long time. If someday Dr. Wood and I have to be wheeled out onto the Benson stage for Favorite Song Stories chapel, that will be OK.
But I need your help. Please write up your story and send it to me. Whether you are a current or former student, faculty, administrator or staff, I want to hear why a certain song has touched your life. Write 150 to 300 words about an event or a person — the more specific, the better. And don’t worry about the style or grammar. I know an English teacher who can help with that. We’re all waiting to hear your story.
Michael Claxton the narrative columnist for The Bison. He may be
contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.