There’s a song that echoes through my childhood. My mom used to sing it with my brothers and me and we would do it in rounds. I remember those evenings on the frayed brown corduroy couch in Faerie Glen, Pretoria when she would coach us on when to stand and when to sit; when to whisper the lines and when to yell them out loud with gusto.
Maybe you know it, it goes like this:
Hallelu – Hallelu – Hallelu – Hallelujah
Praise Ye the Lord! (x3)
Praise ye the Lord (x3)
Praise Ye the Lord!
Music beats strong and hard through many of my child hood memories. The Big Ship Fabulous Flea, John Denver, Ladysmith Black Mambazo, Bon Jovi, Paul Simon, Bruce Springsteen, Whitney Houston, hymns and praise and worship. We loved it all.
Born in Zululand into a culture of clicks and foot stomping, ululatation and harmony, where I existed as a three-year-old determined to dance alongside the weathered grandmas when they celebrated their Christmas packages from the Mission; as an eight year-old riding her first bike; as a gangly pre-teen living in the Willows and convinced she would never be kissed; and as a lonely teenager lost without a mother, trying to find her again in the lyrics she loved.
At eight I can still see my mom’s face as she showed us how to crouch down low on the “Praise Ye the Lords” and leap up fingers scraping-the-ceiling-high on the “Hallelujahs.” We threw our entire childish bodies into those motions and those words and today I teach them to my sons. On the way to school in the car in the mornings we sing. We sing our Hallelujahs loud and without concern for what other drivers might think and we wave our arms high above seat-belted bodies as we declare with the boldness we so badly want to live out, “Praise Ye the Lord!”
We sing to the God we know. The God of our suburb, the God of our Sunday school class and Vacation Bible School. We sing to the God of church potlucks and crockpots overflowing with delicious fragrances. We sing to the God of full time jobs and two cars and a house that doesn’t leak when it rains. We sing to the God of superhero-themed birthday parties and Christmas celebrations and more support and family and love than we usually know what to do with.
We sing His hallelujah chorus and it’s the most familiar and dependable soundtrack of my life.
I heard it in Spanish for the first time today. In Spanish. In Guatemala.
It sounded the same and completely different. As I watched fifty children belt out the song that is as familiar to me as breathing, I realized they were singing to the same God as me, but I barely recognized Him.
They sang to the God of corrugated iron roofs. They sang to the God of concrete floors and mudslides that eat rooms that were never real rooms to begin with. They sang to the God of eleven people living in two rooms. They sang to the God of street gangs and stray dogs. They sang to the God of the children of the Compassion Center called “Jesus Christ our Glorious King.” They sang to the God of Antonio and Melinda and Astrid who colored pictures with me today.
They sang to the God who understands Spanish and their lives in a way that I do not.
How do we do it? How do we find the God we know and love and believe in, in the midst of places that don’t make sense? How do we translate the God we are familiar with into the God we encounter in a shanty town?
Standing on what was left of a path in the wake of last week’s mudslides I look over the sea of shining corrugated iron roofs searching for the God who meets me in Church on Sundays in Virginia. Because if we believe that He is the same yesterday, today and forever then that same truth must apply here.
Either I believe what I claim to or I do not. Either God is the same in Shanty towns as He is in Washington DC or Disney World. Either He holds the poor pressed tight against His heart and suffers with them or everything is meaningless.
“Listen, my beloved brothers. Didn’t God choose those who are Poor in this world to be rich in faith, and heirs of the Kingdom which he promised to those who love him?” James 2:5.
Here, under roofs stitched together with tin and sack cloth and rope, He is their God and they are His children. They walk close to Him because there is so little taking up the space between them. They send up their Hallelujahs without hesitation and this relentless childlike faith is the soundtrack to their lives.
In close quarters.
In ways and means and faith that holds on through the hurricane.
Praise Ye the Lord.
Come sing with us? Sponsor a child – and be someone’s Hallelujah.