Song Without Words

She “sings”. She scats. She hums.

Almost all the time.

Mostly babble. Recognizable tunes here and there.

She sings when she’s happy and when she’s distressed. She sings during her therapy and has to be shushed. She sings in the middle of the night. “I call to remembrance my song in the night…” Ps. 77: 6.

I know. I can hear the experts. It’s a vocal stim. Meaningless, autistic babble. To me, it’s the gentle music of a sweet voice (well, o.k. not so much in the middle of the night).  But there was a time when she was completely silent. Now I like to hear the song in her heart.

I only wish I knew the words to her songs.

My father is an old Georgia preacher. In the small church he grew up in, the old folks had a tradition called “lining a hymn.” I believe the practice was carried over from slavery days and was intended to serve those who could not read.

Sitting in the old country church of hard wooden pews and no air-conditioning, I can still hear the moving, harmonious sounds of worship in my ears (and the flapping of cardboard fans from the local funeral home). An elderly deacon would stand and sing, in a deep tenor, one or two lines at a time of a hymn or Negro spiritual. Pass me not, O Gentle Savior… Hear my humble cry… The church members would collectively sing the melody back, line for line. Then the deacon would hum. Whatever he intoned, they intoned back.

There was repetition and call-and-response. No piano. No drums.  The raised voices and the stomping feet made the music. For long periods of time, there were no words. Only deep, heartfelt humming and moaning offered up to a sovereign God. A sacrifice of praise. With all the meaning in the world.

Sometimes I think she is lining a hymn for me. (I need not know the words.) Reminding me, prompting me to sing.

Because I had almost lost my song.

But when I sing, my anthem comes back to me: Behold, God is my salvation; I will trust, and not be afraid: for the LORD is my strength and my song; he also is become my salvation. Isaiah 12:2

A nonverbal girl. A simple song. An amazing God.

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18 thoughts on “Song Without Words

  1. we line the hymn for each other, don’t we? one at a time, down this long line. prompting each other to sing when we grow quiet.

    no, we need not know the words.

    the love is in the tune.

  2. We groaned, moaned, sighed and otherwise carried on to clear our physical voices at the writing workshop I went to a couple of weeks ago. The idea was to clear the pathway, so things (physical and proverbial) didn’t trip up the writing process. It was lovely. It felt SO GOOD. And the entire time, I thought of kids who verbally stim – not a moment of walking in their shoes for sure, but a brief and beautiful glimpse.

  3. Simply beautiful. I can hear the intonations from your Dad’s church and the sounds of Rhema’s song…

    My two year old sings when he is happy-makes up songs that are a jumble of words that although they are words; I cannot always understand them. What I love about his “songs,” is the same as what you love about your daughters; the song in their hearts.

    Psalm 57:7 My heart is fixed, O God, my heart is fixed: I will sing and give praise.

  4. Oh no. It’s not babble. It may be calming for her. I know it is for Daniel. Once in 4th grade he was VERY upset at school. I went in and he was a mess! I gently started singing one of the songs he liked. It snapped him right out of it. One of the teachers came in and asked what I did. When I said I sang a song you hear him singing all the time, the simplicity was too much. Singing, babbling, gestures, it’s all communication. Don’t let anyone tell you any different. She sounds like a beauty.

  5. Oh, Jeneil, that is so precious. So beautifully expressed! And I believe with all my heart that Rhema is lining a hymn, for all of us.

    PS-I’d love to hear her scat, too! :-)

  6. Beautifully in tune, as always. Thank you for such a thoughtful word.

    Made me think of this verse: “In the same way the Spirit also helps our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we should, but the Spirit Himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words.”

  7. Beautiful post, I love how you put your thoughts into words so eloquently :). My boys love to sing and hum too, they were doing that long before they ever said a word. Sometimes we can make out a familiar tune, and other times it is a song all their own.

  8. What an awesome anology. I can’t say I’ve ever gone to a church where they have lined a hymn, but you did such a good job explaining it that I felt like I was there. I do respite care for two boys and one girl, two are nonverbal. Rhema sounds adorable!

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