I've been thinking a lot about music lately. There's this unique thing that happens in a church - people sing collectively. This doesn't really happen naturally or regularly in any other life situation. There's something about entering a sacred space that somehow enables people to sing, and not just sing, but sing together. It's quite amazing, really, and incredibly beautiful.
I heard a teaching on "why we sing" several years ago that has stuck with me. I often think of it on a Sunday morning when I am struggling to sing, battling tiredness, sadness, distraction, or unrest. I actually love to sing. It feels good. And I wish I played an instrument. But like most people, I like to sing songs that I like, songs that I know. I have my favorites and my not-so-favorites. So, this is what I remember:
Those of you who love to sing - sing. Because you are also singing for those who are unable. Your voice is their voice, you are their representative.
Those of you who don't love to sing - find some way to engage. In your own place and out of your own brokenness find a way in which to take part.
I have to remind myself that it's not about whether or not I like the music. That doesn't matter. Singing is about a shared experience. It is outside of my personal preference. It is about worship. It's not even so much about my time of worship as our time of worship. Singing together is a "culturally subversive act of mutual submission."
There's this psalm.* "A song. For the Sabbath day."
"What a beautiful thing, God, to give thanks, to sing an anthem to you, the High God!
To announce your love each daybreak, sing your faithful presence all through the night,
Accompanied by dulcimer and harp, the full-bodied music of strings.
For you make me glad by your deeds, Lord; I sing for joy at what your hands have done."
In the psalm, the singing, the music-making has nothing do to with me, or with you. It's completely and utterly about the Creator. Singing for joy at what his hands have made.
I was talking about this with my friend Lizzy. She shared a word she had heard recently on music and worship:
Music is one of the things God's given us to help us in our worship.
Music speaks to the reality of who God is.
I believe this to be true in all forms of music. Yes, on a Sunday morning or a Saturday evening or whenever you collectively worship. But also, on my daily run, with my favorite Mumford and Sons song. In the car, on the radio, with that great new song. Or at home, in the everyday, the routine, the solitary moment of worship.
There's this amazing scene in the movie "The Shawshank Redemption." If you've seen it, you probably already know the scene I'm talking about. The character Andy commandeers the warden's PA system and plays Mozart's duet, the Marriage of Figaro, for all of Shawshank Prison to hear, and it most certainly speaks to the reality of who God is.
"I have no idea to this day, what those two Italian ladies were singing about. The truth is, I don't want to know. Some things are best left unsaid. I like to think they were singing about something so beautiful, it can't be expressed in words, it makes your heart ache because of it. I tell you those voices soared, higher and farther than anybody in a grey place dares dream. It was like some beautiful bird flapped into our drab little cage and made those walls dissolve away. For the briefest of moments, every last man in Shawshank felt free."
And so we sing. The poet John O'Donohue said, "Music is what language would love to be if it could." We sing because language isn't enough. Because it has the ability to penetrate the grey places.
If we can all come together and breathe at the same time, pause at the same moment, speak words together, and all affirm the hope, love, and forgiveness...then what else can we do together? Then music becomes a metaphor, and all sorts of things are possible.
*Psalm 92, from the Message and NIV Bibles
Special thanks to Rob Bell and Joseph Tenney for their words on worship.