“My Once-in-a-Lifetime Life” is a series of occasional blogs written by Joy Zomer, who spent several years in Europe as a Christian missionary. Now a single mom of three children, Joy is the director of a high school alternative education program. This post recalls the creation of a hymnbook which becomes a lesson for life.
It sits in a large blue metal bin by the piano. Unobtrusive and silent, it’s there. Five years have passed since this spiral bound booklet found its spot in this bin among beginner and early intermediate level piano lesson books. A sea of pink, blue, green and the occasional Disney rainbow themed paperbacks fill the bin to the brim, making it seem like a life boat calmly carrying its passengers and keeping them safe from the maple wood floor sea. Our book, marked with bruises and a lopsided binding, struggles to stay upright as the massing waves of new life toss over it.
Ten years ago, the existence of this hymn book was a thought, a hope, and a promise. I was working with my husband and children in Scicli, Sicily. Our congregation, a loyal and committed small group of Methodist families, was coming upon its 110th anniversary as a community of believers. The years had not been easy ones for their faith nor for their community. Two brutal wars had marched through their midst. Their pastor and members were persecuted, and much prejudice had washed over their history. Yet, they remained a band of faithful souls, striving to witness to their own beliefs. We had lost two long-standing members recently to the call of heaven, and a number of our members decided to resurrect the old hymns of their past.
Giovanni Gennuso, the president of the consistory, offered up a tattered edition of the “Vecchio Innario” (Old Hymnal) from 1922, which beyond its fading and torn pages, was little more than a group of papers held together by a binding long gone. And so the journey began. A dedication was written to remember those who had gone before, fifty – year – old pictures discovered inside coffee tables were contributed while the songs were edited and recopied. A few times we wrote the songs into sheet music by hand. Always, we sang as we worked and our work reflected a deep tradition of God’s word spoken through song.
We named the hymnal “Risvegliamo Lo Spirito” or “Reclaim the Spirit.” As the church pianist, I became very familiar with the songs. Many were new, but each was meaningful; it was a soul-filling event to hear my friends sing their beliefs and vindication. Remembering now, goosebumps rise on my arms. We sang songs that speak of “a home to return to when tired in heart, alone and burdened” and “a Father we can turn to in times of our pain” ( loose translations). As the Spirit-filled voices filled the room, we knew that this humble book was the work of God. One song was sung with bitterness and firm voices. It refers to “Il Duce”, or “The Leader”, a pun on the Italian Fascist leader, Benito Mussolini who brought much pain and trial to these faithful. With gusto, voices rose to a crescendo as the words spoke of only one true leader, the God who ruled it all. As I played along, each enunciated phrase, each passionate verse was forever etched in my soul.
And then, with the flick of a wave, it simply was. The work done, the Spirit resurrected in those words, the hymnal witnessed to a symbolic fresh start for the congregation. Within the year, my family left the congregation and has not returned. Instead, in a blue bin by my piano, a copy of our hymnal rests with other “voices” struggling to maintain its position. Like a life, the hymnal holds its own, knowing that all it has to offer, in Spirit and in song, is given by the grace of a Loving Father. Its music, resurrected, sings on in another part of the world, in another small community, in the pews of a small brick church nestled against the Mediterranean Sea. The waves that pass will not wash it away.
I think of my own life. How like this hymnal am I? In the shelter of my own small boat, at times steady, always maintaining, I rock along to the beat, waiting for the next wave to wash over me. Each new day brings opportunity to share a belief known by friends whom my eyes may never see again, but my soul will always know. Just a hymnal? Never. In- stead, it is a lifeboat that strengthens and gives voice to a faith that transcends all.