Singing Heart Songs

Rev. Dr. DeWayne L. Davis

Published in This Week At Plymouth

June 30, 2023

Is there a song that, when you hear it, all things sad, bad, or negative fall away? A song with the power to sharpen your senses, bringing up pleasant sense memories of sights and sounds of a time when you felt love, joy, and connection? What about a poem? Songs and poetry have been so present in my life that I often take them for granted. And yet, recently, I’ve come to rely on them more to intentionally introduce heartfelt messages into my heart and head throughout the day and week. I call them heart songs. They are the songs, poems, music, and messages, often personally familiar and beloved, that interrupt the routine, mundane preoccupations of the job and personal and professional stresses to call us to loftier reflections on love, life, and beauty.


There is nothing more delightful than being surprised by a heart song. Last Sunday, as we were gathering for worship, I overlooked the prelude that the Jazz Trio would play. And then, they began to play “The Nearness of You,” a popular song from the 1930s by Hoagy Carmichael and Ned Washington that I first heard in college when the love of my life and I were getting closer and falling more deeply in love. The song has an extraordinary power, whether sung or instrumental, like last week, to transport me into a moment when my heart was opening to the beauty and exhilaration of a new love. All the associations and memories of such a seminal moment in my life arrested me. I could not hold back tears of joy and deep love, and I welcomed both the song and my tears as a sacred act of prayer. As you can tell, the song blesses me still.


I recall that my parents had heart songs that they regularly sang. While that was neither the language they nor I would have ever used to describe it, I now recognize that they regularly interrupted what they were doing by singing heart songs. My mother often sang hymns and spirituals while she worked in the kitchen or her garden. And at some point in her singing and humming, she would stop what she was doing and, with eyes closed, raise her head toward the sky. My father would also sing and recite his favorite Bible passages, stopping for a bit whatever he was doing to let the moment be. In this way, singing our heart songs can be a form of resistance, an intentional means by which we combat soul-distorting sadness, anger, anxiety, or depression to draw us into the presence of love, connection, and relationship. I imagine those songs, poems, and messages that create holiness wherever and whenever they arise and draw us back to the essence of what is good, loving, and life-giving. Sing, recite, or listen to a heart song. Work, worry, and everything else can wait for a minute.