By Richard S. Barnett
So many people enrich the body of Christ with musical talents that I admire. Their vocal talents and skill with musical instruments feed my spirit, uplift my soul, and inspire me to new heights – whereas I play the radio. Well, that probably doesn’t count anyway; yet an unmusical person like me needs a musical outlet of some sort, even if it’s like using a hockey stick to compete with Tiger Woods. My outlet is whistling.
When everything seems right with the world, and a happy and loving home sustains our cheerfulness, even unmusical people like me cannot keep quiet. We simply cannot stay silent when the sunshine backlights the fall foliage and makes it blaze with color. Of course, the golden days of autumn pass by swiftly, and winter storms always seem to overshadow our lives. "Rainy days and Mondays" will come, as one song says, but they cannot get you down while you whistle, "On the sunny side of the street."
To be able to "give a little whistle" like Jiminy Cricket, you have to physically straighten up and look up. You just can’t whistle when you hunch your shoulders and look down. "Whistle while you work" and you place yourself in command of your work instead of being a slave to it. Just try my prescription for yourself, and you will find that whistling serves as a simple therapy for the soul and as a "shield against despair."
You may wonder if whistling really qualifies as what the Psalmist calls a "joyful noise." Confidentially, my exhaustive concordance does not list a single reference to whistling in the Scriptures. Some modern translations do render a very few uses of "hiss" as "whistle." In these cases, the contexts point to something like whistling for a dog – a signal with no musical quality or purpose. This lowly place that whistling has in the Bible seems to be a fair measure of the social and cultural acceptance that whistling has earned elsewhere – none at all.
Even for a virtuoso whistler, there can be no doubt that whistling makes a poor substitute for singing, and can often be inappropriate. Regardless of whether I whistle along with mockingbirds, Mozart, or Henry Mancini, whistling cannot take the place of singing. Beneficial for our morale as it may be to defy circumstances and conventions, the deepest needs of our hearts and souls long for a finer expression in song.
Walt Whitman once described poetry as the fruition of beauty. Extending the thought of the poet, we could say that song is the beautiful fruition of joy. Other moods do find expression in song, as we are reminded by the fact that the earliest song recorded in Scripture celebrates blood vengeance (Genesis 4:23-24). Nevertheless, song is a fitting outlet for joy because of its inspiring combination of words and melody. Thus we read:
And the ransomed of the Lord shall return,
and come to Zion with singing;
everlasting joy shall be upon their heads;
they shall obtain joy and gladness,
and sorrow and sighing shall flee away.
(Isaiah 35:10, RSV)
Christians may rightfully sing because our salvation brings us this kind of joy. The silence of the grave can never smother our joy. Our joy brings us nearer to understanding the wonder of salvation than any amount of technical prose. The poet voices his or her wonderment in vivid and rhythmic words. Add the dimensions of tone and harmony, and the poet becomes a singer. Joy comes to a beautiful fruition, and we offer it up to God. Singing together uplifts all our hearts in fellowship.
Beyond our fellowship, joy is confined. Sorrow and sighing rule the wastelands of mind and spirit where people have no room for God in their lives. Crucifixion remains the common lot of too much of humanity. Too many have too much of the bitter bread of hardship and grief. They wait – without hope – for nothing.
We are the ones to awaken hope and give them strength out of the comfort we have received (2 Corinthians 1:4). Our experience of God's mercies prepares us to be vessels of mercy for the Father of mercies.
Our Lord does have room in his service for whistlers, albeit more by tolerance than by commission. A whistler, after all, sings for himself. Singers have the greater gift by far. But I won’t make a career out of whistling. More important is being a part of the body of Christ and using the other gifts He has given me. Laugh with me about whistling, but remember the words of the Apostle Paul and guard what has been entrusted to your care (1 Timothy 6:13). May it bring joy to you and encourage others to glorify God!
Richard Barnett has retired from petroleum exploration and teaching Earth Science at Houston Community College. He lives, writes, and volunteers in Wimberley, Texas. Alleen and Richard Barnett have two grown daughters and two grandsons, and they attend Wimberley Presbyterian Church.
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