If you have even a passing knowledge of Christian church attendance, you’ve probably heard a few hymns in your day. Whether you pulled a dusty hymnal from the back of a pew to read lyrics or you picked them up from a relative singing them while cleaning on Saturday mornings, you probably know the words, too. Because they’re so ancient and so easily associated with elders, hymns can provide us a deep sense of a nostalgia, reassurance, and comfort.

I have two hymns I associate with my late grandmothers. The first is “Swing Low Sweet Chariot,” which my maternal great-grandmother used to play on an out-of-tune piano from time to time. I always thought the lyrics were “swing low, sweet cherry, oh!” and she never corrected me. In fact, we never talked at all about what that song meant or about what it meant to her and why it was the hymn she played more often than any other. But to this day, when I hear it, she’s the only person I think of. The other is “My Hope Is Built On Nothing Less,” which my paternal grandmother used to seeing in a lilting soprano while I sat up under her on the pew at her small Christian fellowship. “All other ground is sinking sand,” she’d croon with confidence.

There’s something so soothing about hearing those songs now. They help me through life’s disappointments and griefs and help me celebrate the triumphs and reaffirm my faith.

Other hymns and Negro spirituals that are particularly inspirational for me include:

“I’m Buildin’ Me a Home”

“This earthly house is gonna soon decay, and my soul gotta have somewhere to stay.”

“How Deep the Father’s Love for Us”

“It Is Well With My Soul”

Do you have a favorite hymn?

*Photo via the Maryland Historical Society

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