There is something that has recently gone viral on TikTok, and it is called the Sea Shanty. How many of you have heard of the Sea Shanty? How many know what TikTok is? Sea Shanty is a song. Nathan Evans is 26 years old. He was one of those people that uploaded to TikTok because he thought it was funny and cool. The song went viral, and people were watching it from all over the world. It started trending when Kermit the Frog sang it. Andrew Lloyd Webber sang it. The late night hosts began to do their own “Sea Shanties.” I want to play a little bit of the song Sea Shanty. Notice how other people jump in with either instruments or the song. It becomes this communal experience. The Wellerman is a classic Sea Shanty. I will play this video of Nathan Evans who sang it.

There once was a ship that put to sea

The name of the ship was the Billy of Tea

The winds blew up, the bow dipped down

Oh blow, my bully boys, blow (huh)

Soon may the Wellerman come

To bring us sugar and tea and drum

One day, when the tonguing is done

We’ll take our leave and go

She’d not been two weeks from shore

When down on her a right whale bore

The captain called all hands and swore

He’d take that whale in tow (huh)

Soon may the Wellerman come

To bring us sugar and tea and drum

One day, when the tonguing is done

We’ll take our leave and go

That is going to be stuck in your head all day. I promise you now. I started reading about Sea Shanty because I did not know what it was. They were songs sung by sailors. They were sung especially to keep sailors motivated when the sea began to get stormy or when they did not see the sky for days. When they grew hungry, when they grew tired or when everybody on the crew started to feel like they were just going to give up, one person would start singing the Sea Shanty. The leader would sing the Sea Shanty, and everyone else on the boat would respond to it.

The cool thing is that it lifted the spirits of the sailors, but it also helped them get the work done that they needed to do. When they would sing it to the beat they would row together or tug on the ropes to lift the sails together. When everybody started to get down or depressed this was one way to bring the whole ship together. It would not only bring them together, but it would keep them focused on what the goal was. The lyrics would always be about returning home and some the joys of what it would be like when they got back home.

I realized when I was reading about this, watching these different videos from different people, listening to the lyrics, and hearing the beat that we have something like this in our faith. We have something known as the Psalms. All the Psalms are meant to be sung together. As you heard today, there is always a cantor who sings the lead part and then the people join in on the refrain. The amazing thing about the Psalms is that they cover every range of emotion. They cover sadness. They cover the desire to give up. They cover anger. They cover joy. They cover the entire range of human emotion.

This young kid was interviewed and, as he describes the Sea Shanty, he would say that it was a way to get people to join in. People would upload their voices online over the main voice. They would upload their instruments. Before you knew it, there would be this cool sound of the choral. The people are all singing together in harmony. He said that it would be just a way to sing along, stomp their feet, clap their hands, and keep morale high.

I know we are all in need of keeping our morale high. Right? As we come to the end of this horrible time in our lives, the end of the pandemic. Think about just a year ago how the churches were closed. People were unable to come to mass. I think the other interesting parallel is that we have been discouraged from singing. We are not allowed to sing right now. We just heard that singing brings us together. Singing is what brings us joy. Singing is what keeps us going when we are feeling sad or down or unmotivated. We need this. Saint Ambrose explains that the Psalms are a gymnasium for the soul. What he means by that is they are a great way for us to get in spiritual shape and to keep in spiritual shape. So that when we begin to struggle or we begin to go through difficult times, if we know the Psalms, we can sing them during any time of our life. I am going to read a quote from Saint Augustine.

He says, “History instructs us. The law teaches us. Prophecy foretells us. Correction punishes us. Morality persuades us. But the book of the Psalms goes further than all of these. It is medicine for our spiritual health. Whoever reads it will find in it a medicine to cure the wounds by his own particular passions. Whoever studies it deeply will find in it a gymnasium open for all souls to use. Where there are different Psalms are like different exercises set out before him. In that gymnasium, in that stadium of virtue, he can choose the exercises that will train him best to win the victor’s crown.”

When I am working out or running, I like to listen to music because that keeps me energized and keeps me going. We hear from Saint Augustine that is what the Psalms are for us. If we pray them, if we sing them, if we get to know them well, they become this gymnasium for us where we can exercise all of our emotions, life’s challenges, and difficulties. We can be strengthened with the Psalms. They are a part of every single mass that is celebrated every single day. They are an essential part of the mass. Priests and religious make a promise to pray them all throughout the day in what is known as the Liturgy of the Hours. I am sure many of you lay people know how to pray that as well. It is called the Universal Prayer of the Church. The Liturgy of the Hours are prayed in the morning, at noon, in the evening, at night, overnight perpetually all day long and all around the world. As I said, there is a response. You have a leader who begins and chants and then everybody else joins in. These Psalms are a way for us to remember our story. They are a way for us to continue on when times get difficult. I would encourage you to have your own Psalm. If you were to pick one of the 50 Psalms of the bible, what is yours? Mine is Psalm 139, for example. It is the one I am going to use at my funeral when I die.

“Oh Lord, you search me and you know me, you know all my ways.”

I love that Psalm. I encourage you to pick a Psalm that becomes your favorite. There is something very interesting that happens in today’s Psalm. Psalm 137. I want to give you context to today’s Psalm. The Hebrew people had been idolaters. Idolaters honor other gods. They put other gods beside our God. The Hebrew people had been plagued by this. They kept falling into idolatry. They kept worshipping other gods. Finally, God said, “Enough.” He allowed them to be exiled. The entire city of Jerusalem was sieged and destroyed, and the Jewish people had to flee.

They fled to a place called Babylon. It is interesting that the Pope just visited Iran. Southern Iran is where Babylon is. The Hebrew people had fled to Babylon. When they got to Babylon, they became enslaved by the Babylonians. The Babylonians took them over, held them hostage and made them all their slaves. This is where Psalm 137 is written. There is a wonderful, beautiful but painful line that says, “On the aspens of that land we hung up our harps.” What does hanging up their harps mean? It means they quit singing the Psalms. The Psalms were all accompanied by a harp. They hung up their harp because things got so bad for them, so painful for them, so horrible for them that they stopped singing the Psalms. They just quit singing. They despaired. They gave up. So, their captives would start making fun of them realizing that they were despairing, giving up and they would say, “Why do you not play your harps now? Why do you not sing your song now?” Really kind of giving it to them. This Psalm is about that time when they hung up their harps, and they let their right hands wither (which is the hand that they would play their instrument with) and their tongue silenced. So, no more singing.

Think about that and the church today. There is no singing right now. But this time of captivity would only be for so long. The interesting and fascinating thing about this is the Hebrews would have been idolators for centuries before that. When they were rescued this time, when God rescued them from Babylon, that would be the last time they would ever be idolators. It would be the last time ever they worshipped a foreign god. They would pick up their harps once more and they would begin to sing.

Hopefully, this time of pandemic has helped us to be less idolatrized. What I mean by that is hopefully it has helped us. Hopefully it has helped us reorder our lives so that God is number one. He is number one over work. He is number one over sports. He is number one over anything else that may have kept us from him. So many people have told me that their spiritual lives have grown so much during this time of the pandemic. I think a lot of it is because everything has been taken away from us, and so we must focus on the spiritual life.

I invite you to reflect on your life. Has there ever been a time for you when you have hung up your harp? Can you look back at your life and see a time when you ever gave up on God or gave up on hope? Has there ever been a time you despaired? I want you to think about that and remember that just to help us see that God has saved us. God has saved you probably from some time in your life when you hung up your harp. Some time in your life when you gave in despair. Some time in your life when you gave up the beat of Psalms. I invite you to do that only to show that God does get us through difficult times. I think about my own only life, my own family, and my friends. Everybody has had some time where they were just completely crushed and ready to cash it in or give it up.

We can look back now and say, “God has freed us.” As we come to the end of this pandemic, and as we come to the end of this season of Lent, hopefully we take our harps up again and we begin singing. Hopefully, the Psalms become this wonderful gymnasium of our soul. Hopefully, God once more is the center of our lives. I hope for each and every one of you that the shanty continues. That the Psalms continue. That the joy continues, and ultimately, that we march together on this wonderful song to eternal life.