In the classic Hans Christian Anderson tale of the Little Mermaid (not to be confused with its Disneyesque counterpart), the little mermaid forfeits her life under the sea for one on land. She is promised not only two legs, but also the possibility of an eternal soul should the prince fall in love with her. She’s warned that if the prince should marry another, she will instantly die of a broken heart and turn to sea foam.
The cost for this promise: Her voice and her ability to sing.
I’ve made this deal.
In May of 1993 I suffered damage to my vocal chords during a failed external cephalic version (an attempt to turn an upside-down and backwards daughter in utero in order to avoid a c-section). I screamed throughout the entire process. I have no idea if the medical folk every regained hearing (I’m a trained soprano)… but I lost three of my four octaves and didn’t claim them again for years.
Not being able to sing, especially in worship, was emotionally and spiritually painful but the resulting gift of my daughter was worth everything. I’d do it again in a heartbeat for her.
Losing my voice to gain a life? Absolutely, if painful and heart-wrenching.
In the original version of the Little Mermaid, the prince marries another. Just before dawn the next day and her dissolution into seafoam, the mermaid is told that if she kills the prince who betrayed her love with a special knife and allows his blood to drip into the sea, she will regain her mermaid form and will live out her remaining years with her family.
This too is a familiar choice.
As congregations around the world determine if they will gather in worship, and gather voices in song they are making a similar choice. We can go back to singing, go back to our old forms of worship with one another. We can ignore the warnings about the effectiveness of singing in spreading the virus and belt out beloved hymns. We can make the choice to return to the sea in our original form and rejoin our family.
Of course, the difference in our story and that of the little mermaid is we don’t have the option of determining who might die from that choice.
In the end, she can’t do it. Dawn comes, and instead of dissolving into seafoam she is transformed into a Daughter of the Air because of her selflessness. She is told that if she does good deeds for the next 300 years she will be given an immortal soul and go to heaven.
Now, obviously, this isn’t gospel. It’s also not Disney. It does, however, provide a cautionary tale on the choices we make and the sacrifices we may need to consider in order that others might live.
It might be Gospel after all.