The Gift of Song from my Amish Family

A copy of the Amish hymnal called the "Ausbund", printed in 1835.

A family copy of the Amish hymnal called the “Ausbund”, printed in 1835. The Ausbund is used to this day in the Old Order Amish Church services.

Singing is an integral part of my Amish family, and evokes some of the most powerful memories of times with them through the years. Science shows us that music has a profound effect on us both physically & emotionally. I can attest to those findings, and I’m sure you can as well! In contrast to songs of American pop culture defining my musical memory, the songs my family taught me are rooted in Biblical truth and melodies of praise.

“Music is one area where the Amish work at holding back the wild horses of modernity and secularism by carefully selecting the texts and tunes that nurture godliness, kindness and mutuality. I argue that music serves as one of the scaffoldings by which the Amish build and maintain boundaries and healthy community structures.” D. Rose Elder

The beauty of my Amish family’s musical heritage is its simplicity. The only things required were people, their voices, and their willingness to sing. There were no instruments, no sound equipment and no special venues. The only objects added at times are a songbook and a pitch pipe. But most Amish and Mennonite people have a large repertoire of hymns in their memory, and can sing for hours with no help from lyrics on a page.

Grandma had songs for all times of the day. There was “Good Morning Sunshine” when we woke up, “When We All Work Together” while doing chores, “Building Up the Temple” while playing with the babies…and the list goes on and on. We still sing a mealtime blessing learned at Grandpa & Grandma’s house, in our home today: “God is great and God is good, and we thank Him for our food, By His hand we all are fed, give us Lord our daily bread, Amen”. In addition to singing, I smile when I think of my musical Amish Grussmommy playing her harmonica, and the way my Grandma filled the house with her whistling all through the day.

My grandparents were fond of many songs, but there were some particular favorites for each of them. Grussdaudy’s was “Amazing Grace”, and Grussomommy especially loved the German hymn “Gott Ist Die Liebe”. The lyrics of “One Day at a Time” were very special to my Grandpa, and I remember my Grandma often singing “What A Friend We Have In Jesus”.

When extended family meets (on both my father and my mother’s sides), singing is always a part of the gathering. One of my favorite songs during family reunions is “Come and Dine”, which we all sing together at meal time. And the singing over the holiday seasons is truly a generational treasure! Grussmommy loved to sing with her sisters. How I wish we had videos of those special times.

In addition to singing as a family, the Amish and Mennonite community has a social culture built around song. I have fond memories of Sunday evening “Singings” with my parent’s friends, where we joined in a home and beautiful acapella harmonies filled the room.

Inside the Ausbund

Inside the Ausbund – Page 770 is always the second song sung in the Old Order Amish Church Service.

As a child, I had the immense privilege of visiting both my Old Order Amish and New Order Amish grandparent’s churches. When I reflect on the singing during those services, I am overcome with emotion. There’s something very special and so sacred about being surrounded by believers, immersed in a room filled with the voices of men, women and children of all generations, reverently singing praises to their King, with all “worldly” distractions removed from the environment. It’s a communal experience where you feel part of something bigger and more important than just yourself, but at the same time it’s very personal. Ah, the deep and meaningful simplicity of voices united in song! It is a treasure for the ages.

From my Amish family, I learned the power of music and song. First, it is a gift from our Creator, and singing praises to Him is something He designed for us to do. It brings joy to Him and to us! It reminds us of His promises, His faithfulness and His goodness in our lives. Second, it brings together families and communities, powerfully uniting them with meaning, purpose and sweet traditions. My heart floods with gratefulness to God for the gift of song He has given me.

~ Justina Dee

This is post 13 of a 31 day series I’m sharing about my Amish family. Thank you for following along!

Links:

Johns Hopkins University “Why the Amish Sing”

Portion of book by D. Rose Elder, about Amish Singing

Ending clip (from a full length video), with the song Gott Ist Die Liebe

Come and Dine

 

Books in the Amish Home

The soft glow of the gas lamp spilled into the room. It was a bitter cold winter night. Moonlight glistened on the fresh snow outside. But my grandparent’s living room was cozy and warm with love. And I was happy and content. Because as the day came to an end, it was time to open the pages of comfortable and familiar books  – or equally as wonderful, fill the evening with the adventure of an intriguing new read.

The love of learning, the sequestered nooks,
And all the sweet serenity of books.                                       ~Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

Sitting on the landing of Grussdaudy & Grussmommy’s stairs, was the bookshelf. As a young girl my favorites were the illustrated children’s Bible story books found there. When I grew older I was fond of reading their historical fiction collections. The selection of books found in the guest room of my other grandparent’s house never disappointed anyone searching for something to read. There were children’s story books, classic young readers, devotionals and many more. As a teenager, my favorite book from their shelf was called “Christy“.

Family Life Magazine

In addition to books, my grandparents read the Budget (“a weekly newspaper written for and by members of the Amish, Amish Mennonite, Beachy Amish, and Mennonite communities from 1890 to the present.” – The Budget) and Family Life Magazine (” it contains articles on Christian living, parenting, and homemaking. It also contains editorials, letters from Amish readers, medical advice, poems, recipes, and children’s stories.” – Scroll Christian Publishing.) My Grandpa read Lancaster’s Intelligencer Journal newspaper every day, and often shared stories from The Guidepost with us.

The Ausbund

At the heart of every Amish home’s book collection you can find a German family Bible and the Ausbund (the oldest hymnal in continuous use in the world, with hymns dating back to 1525). Many also have a copy of Martyr’s Mirror. (“In 1660, Dutch Mennonite Thieleman J. van Braght published this immense and beautifully crafted collection of the stories and testimonies of Christian martyrs from the preceding seventeen centuries, focusing mostly on Anabaptists, or Christians who practiced nonresistance.”)

Something magnificent happens when you remove television from the environment of a home. Instead of families staring blankly at a box, you find them engaged in things like mindful activities, nourishing conversations and reading. I have to agree with Jane Austen when she says,

“I declare after all there is no enjoyment like reading! How much sooner one tires of any thing than of a book!”                     ~ Jane Austen

I cherish this lesson from my Amish family: Reading a bonafide book with exquisite pages you turn in your hand is not a lost art. It nourishes the soul, stretches the imagination and trains the mind. We should all devise a plan of action and set aside some time in our busy lives where we sit down in a comfortable room with our family, and allow the wondrous words on the pages of books to come alive in our homes.

~ Justina Dee

Thank you for joining me on this #write31days project, as I share lessons I’ve learned from my Amish family! You can read more of my posts on the Amish way of life by clicking here.

Link:

Wall Street Journal’s Article: Amish Newspapers Thrive in Digital Age

Read Martyr’s Mirror Online Here