The Rev. Sylvia Miller-Mutia is Rector of St. Thomas of Canterbury in Albuquerque, NM and has been a presenter at Music that Makes Community events since 2013.
One of the great things about paperless music in liturgy is that it frees us up to look at each other and to move our bodies when we sing. If you're not holding a hymnal, you have the freedom to hold hands with your neighbor, clap, dance or sign along with a song.
As a dancer, movement has always been an important part of my spiritual life, but it wasn't until about four years ago that I began working with a parishioner who had studied ASL to begin integrating simple sign language interpretations of some canticles, songs, and prayers of our community into worship on a regular basis.
Incorporating elements of sign language into worship is one way we can support the participation of visual and kinesthetic learners, pre-literate and pre-verbal children, and people who are hard of hearing in our liturgies.
I've found that "echo songs" are often a good place to start inviting congregational participation in singing and signing prayers.
Echoing very short phrases of music and movement helps us develop a habit of looking and listening carefully, then responding without over-taxing our memories. Furthermore, singing and signing traditional prayers in an echo form invites us to:
- engage each word and phrase of the prayer with intention
- engage multiple senses and our whole body in prayer
- balance the receptive (listening and watching) and active (singing and moving) aspects of prayer
- avoid praying on "auto-pilot"
- discover new layers of meaning, connection, and insight
- experience familiar texts in new ways
Whatever our age, integrating song and sign language into prayer and worship is one powerful way that we can begin getting scripture and the prayers of the church "into our bones."
You can find the listing for Holy, Holy, Holy in our MMC Songs Database, and use the "Echo" filter under "Song Type" or "Movement" under "Contexts and Gatherings" to find more songs that will help you add movement into your worship and prayer.