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Whistling in the Dark, or Singing in the Wilderness?

At last night's service, one of the questions posed was along the lines of 'what is the difference between "whistling in the dark" and "singing in the wilderness"?'

It's a really good question.  In the small group I was part of, we tried to define 'whistling in the dark,' an expression with which not all were familiar.  Opinions ranged from the very literal, recalling how in times of literal darkness as a child singing or whistling had been a means of generating courage ("whenever I feel afraid, I hold my head erect, and whistle a happy tune, so no-one will suspect I'm afraid...") via a kind of fake or baseless confidence, to a sense of futility ('whistling in the dark' not so different from 'whistling in the wind').  However we understood it, there was a sense that it most probably did not, or could not, really inspire courage or hope or whatever it was we felt we needed.

Singing in the wilderness, by contrast is motivated by hope, by a sense that this is not all there is, that we will, eventually, reach the other side.  It has a quality of defiance, determination and tenacity.  Rather than singing to drive out fear, we sing to bolster courage.  In instead of evading despair, we foster hope.

I think that there is probably another difference.  Whistling in the dark tends to be a solo enterprise, something we do when we are on our own (or feel we are).  Singing in the wilderness can, and often does, have a corporate edge to it.  Yomping songs, campfire songs... these are shared with others.

Whether it is private whistling or corporate singing, I guess there is a choice about what it is we express, and how or why that is.


I know a few people who have found themselves cast into wilderness places recently, and it is no small undertaking to sing in the wilderness - far easier to succumb to despair or bitterness, anger or fear, hopelessness or even aggression.   But the songs of the wilderness, so often in the minor key, and aching in their honesty are beautiful and hope-filled, if only we have the courage to join in and the ears to hear.

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