Singing the Songs We Can

by Chris Koellhoffer, IHM   January 1, 2023

Does resilience flourish best in community?

That’s a wondering I’ve carried every time I watch the news and see images of the people of Ukraine. Women catching a last kiss before a husband, father, brother leaves to defend his country. Elders with canes in hand navigating the ruins of bombed out homes, absent food, running water, or heat in the grip of a frigid winter. Neighbors clawing through rubble to unearth yet another neighbor in hopes of finding signs of breath.

It’s what I’m not seeing that is so remarkable in these scenes. No whining, no complaining, no despondence or despair, no whimpers of “Why me?” Rather, a simple acknowledgment of the hardships of life in Ukraine during this war, followed by an expression of fierce love for their country and a determination to return to their homes in peace.

It’s also what I am hearing that astounds me: the full-throated singing of a passionate folk song or a chorus of defiant resistance, sung by the very people who have just been attacked by a drone strike.

Perhaps it seems so extraordinary to me because I know how easily grief can strike us mute.  How sorrow and loss can utterly devastate or paralyze us. When we’re bereft, we can feel as if we’re in the middle of Psalm 137’s sentiment, “By the rivers of Babylon we sat and wept when we remembered Zion…How could we sing the songs of our God in a foreign land?” (verses 1, 4)

In the “foreign land” of grief or heartache or dreams trampled underfoot, we may go to worship or to gatherings and be struck silent when the congregation is invited to sing. It may seem as if the notes of every song simply choke us and die in our throats.

But here’s where community and kinship come into play, much as has been on display in Ukraine. Our fragile, shaky voices are strengthened and encouraged by the many around us who are able to sing, whose voices lift up a melody, a prayer. When our voices are silenced by profound grief or inconsolable loss or a deadening of spirit, the entire community carries us. We may feel as though those assembled are singing in our place, are singing when we simply can’t. And over time, this same community may help us to find our voice again so we can ultimately sing a new song of resilience.

Elena Mozhvilo, Unsplash

Wherever we are as we enter this new year, the Holy One is with us. We may be beginning 2023 in a state of consolation, a lightness of heart. Or we may find ourselves in the unenviable space of owning a voice that has been struck mute by tragedy or hushed by the heaviness of life. May we sing a new song for a new year as we are able, and if our voice is stifled, may we be tenderly carried by the kinship of the community around us.


Sit in stillness with the Holy One.
When you feel ready, sing: a peep, a cry, a trumpet, a roar.
If you don’t feel ready, let yourself be carried by the love of thousands.
Ask the Holy One to sing in you through this new year.

Featured Image: Nati Melnychuk, Unsplash

Happy New Year! I’m grateful and encouraged to be going into 2023 in your good company as you follow Mining the Now. May the days ahead be filled with peace and good health for you and for our world that is both beautiful and broken.

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5 thoughts on “Singing the Songs We Can”

  1. May the Holy One sing in you throughout the New Year Chris-your song will hold up those who need your song.

  2. Hi Sr Chris, Happy New Year.
    Thank you for your beautiful reflections, they are always so inspiring. Wishing you and your friends and family the best of everything in 2023. Love Mary

  3. Sr Chris Happy New Year to you. I look so forward to reading your reflections. They bring me peace and I do love to sing. Julia

  4. Chris, I so appreciate your reflection. I feel that we are called to help carry the lovely family from Ukraine that has come into our lives while they adapt to their new circumstances.

  5. Your message was so meaningful and needed at this time as I struggle with all of life’s issues. I pray for strength, for understanding, for peace, and hope for everyone.

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