How Can I Keep From Singing?

By Al Perrotta Published on March 23, 2020

As we’ve been breaking out in sweat over the coronavirus pandemic, we have also been breaking out in song.

From Italian neighborhoods to New York apartment buildings. From insufferable celebrities butchering John Lennon’s “Imagine” to the great Neil Diamond humorously reworking his own “Sweet Caroline.”

This weekend, even as churches had to shutter their doors, worship teams still were singing. Watch here for this weekend’s service from Gateway Church, home to several Stream and LIFE Outreach family members, including publisher James Robison. Songs of praise and hope, echoing through the megachurch’s cavernous, empty, sanctuary.

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Some may wonder how we can sing such hopeful songs, such worship songs, in a time of death and darkness and fear? The answer comes from an old hymn. You want to know how I can sing? How can I keep from singing?

“How Can I Keep From Singing?”

Although often credited as an “early” Quaker hymn, the song was written by a 19th Century American Baptist minister named Robert Wadsworth Lowry. It shows up in an 1869 song book called Bright Jewels for the Sunday School, under his name. However, the first known publication was a year earlier in The New York Observer, credited to “Pauline T.” The original title was “Always Rejoicing.”

Feel the lyrics:

My life flows on in endless song;
Above earth’s lamentation,
I hear the sweet, tho’ far-off hymn
That hails a new creation;

Thro’ all the tumult and the strife
I hear the music ringing;
It finds an echo in my soul—
How can I keep from singing?

What tho’ my joys and comforts die?
The Lord my Saviour liveth;
What tho’ the darkness gather round?
Songs in the night he giveth.

No storm can shake my inmost calm
While to that refuge clinging;
Since Christ is Lord of heaven and earth,
How can I keep from singing?

I lift my eyes; the cloud grows thin;
I see the blue above it;
And day by day this pathway smooths,
Since first I learned to love it,

The peace of Christ makes fresh my heart,
A fountain ever springing;
All things are mine since I am his
How can I keep from singing?

Here’s a beautiful rendition from Audrey Assad.

What Tho’ the Darkness Gather Round

Singing in times of strife and confinement is in our DNA. As The Stream’s Tom Gilson points out in his latest article, Paul and Silas sang while in prison. And they weren’t singing the blues. At midnight, surrounded by prison walls and an undetermined fate, they sang hymns. Or as Lowry would put it “the songs in the night He giveth.”

We who know the Lord sing because we know the end of the story. We know that what we see isn’t final, because Jesus loves us. As Stream editor David Mills reminds us, in his story on the great hymn “It Is Well With My Soul,” we sing the truth that “Whatever my lot, Thou hast taught me to know, it is well, it is well, with my soul.”

Today, as we look at neighbor helping neighbor, Christians helping their communities, voices raising in unity, how can we keep from singing? And as we look at how God is moving and delivering us in this crisis, how can we possibly stop singing?


Al Perrotta is the Managing Editor of The Stream and co-author, with @JZmirak, of The Politically Incorrect Guide to Immigration. You can follow him at @StreamingAl. And if you aren’t already, please follow The Stream at @Streamdotorg.

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