Expressing un-speak-able joy
Sing to him a new song. (Ps 32:3) Take off the old: you’ve learned a new song. New man, New Testament, new song. The new song doesn’t belong to old people; only new people learn it, people reborn by grace out of their oldness and already belonging to the new covenant that is the kingdom of God. And all our love sighs with desire and sings the new song. But let us sing the new song by our lives, not by our tongues.
Sing to him a new song; sing well to him. Everyone wants to know how to sing to God. Sing to him, but don’t do it poorly. He doesn’t want his ears to be hurt. Sing well, brother. If without musical training you are told to sing in order to please someone who knows how to listen to music, you are afraid to sing lest you displease him because what someone unskilled doesn’t hear an artist will criticize. Who would offer to sing to him if God were to judge singers that way, if he were to examine them that way, if he were to listen that way? When can you ever offer such elegant singing that you don’t offend God’s perfect ear in any way?
But look: he gives you a sort of way of singing: don’t look for words by which to describe why you delight in God. Sing with whoops. This is what it means to sing well to God: to sing by whooping. What does this mean? To understand that what is sung in the heart cannot be expressed in words. People who sing, whether during the harvest, or in the vineyards, or in some work they love, begin by expressing their happiness in the words of songs; but then, as if filled with such happiness that they cannot express it in words, they turn from words with syllables and go off into sounds of whooping. A whoop is the sound someone makes to show that the heart is giving birth to something it cannot tell. And whom else does such whooping befit but the un-speakable God. For “un-speakable” means the one whom you cannot speak, and if you cannot speak him, and you must not be silent, what else remains but that you whoop, so that your heart can rejoice without words, and the vast expanse of your joys will not be bounded by the syllables of words. Sing well to him with whoops. (Augustine, Enar. in. Ps 32-2, 8; PL 36, 283)