A few weeks ago on Facebook a friend reposted an ad for ‘America’s largest Gospel Music event’ which proudly proclaimed a dozen or so of the top groups that would appear during several consecutive days of music. I didn’t recognize any of them – not one.
The (insert comforting word) Quartet; The Singing (somebody)s; The Joyful (whoever)s; The (something) Sisters; The Joyful (family name) Family. I really don’t care for it and don’t pay attention although lots of friends assume I do. Funny clothing, molded hair, odious makeup and unnaturally high voices are the same reasons I don’t watch the Grammys.
This will be foreign to some of you but when I was a kid, I grew up on classic hymns and christian songs in congregational singing and country tunes whenever there was a ‘special in song’. Some of it wonderful, much good, some unbearable, always repetitive. In the music wars during the 70s and 80s traditionalists insisted that hymns alone communicated this or that but it always rang hollow for me.
I’ve gotta admit the contemporary styles have also pushed me away with the perceived need for a worship team, technology, feel-good lyrics, plenty of chords and cords. And cookie-cutter stylizing:
chorus, chorus, chorus
last two lines, last two lines,
last two lines,
last line, last line…
Please don’t misunderstand – I’m not poking fun. Much. I fully recognize there are many flavours and tastes and I’m grateful for that. Full disclosure: any music, old or new, from violin to banjo, can speak to me, move me, open me to God.
I have a variety of religious music in my Spotify account: Third Day, a couple of choirs and chorales, playlists of hymns and worship songs by a variety of artists, Taizé music, some classical and even some occasional country and blue grass. But in my world Jesus Christ Superstar, Don Henley, Bob Dylan or Carole King can also be meaningful, not to mention U2. I have a pastor friend (you know who you are) who described his bucket-list U2 concert as a worship experience. Point being that our tastes, attitudes and approaches speak loudly when it comes to opening ourselves to God’s Spirit.
Music is an emotional accelerant which makes it easy to push aside our barriers and access our ‘feel goods’. That’s the upside but it’s also the downside. It seems there is something more to God’s presence than just instrumentation or emotion.
Worship doesn’t simply consist of music and in fact, the two don’t even need to cross paths. Worship is what we are called to do every day and honestly, it’s something we humans naturally long to do. We want to connect in some way to our Creator; to find safety and presence in our souls but it can certainly be without melodies or harmonies. Sometimes it’s silent.
Some of my most powerful experiences of God have come from outside of music: a wow moment while reading a book, a dawning thought during a lecture, a foot washing service on Maundy Thursday, and even a sense of Presence while repairing floor trim, operating a fork lift or walking through an end of life.
So you see, contrary to what you might think or witness, experiencing the Divine isn’t the exclusive possession of dewy-eyed hand raisers or those who just seem to do it so well at church. That was never me; maybe it isn’t you either.
Experiencing God also belongs to introverts whose hands don’t move and who are uncomfortable or unpopular or tongue-tied. It even belongs to analytical or creative people because it is often found in sciences, arts, reflection and thought. Inside a cathedral, a classroom, a living room or under the canopy of a tree.
If you haven’t guessed, this post is for people who ‘don’t fit in’ or who find worship difficult.
Yes you do, and yes it is.
“God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in the Spirit and in truth.” *
More to come.
* John 4:24 (NIV)