Last weekend while driving home from a movie, my husband and I passed a beautiful little country church. It looked more like something from a New England movie set than the modern church architecture you see today. A sign in front advertised an old-fashioned “hymn sing” the following night. On a whim we decided to make the trek back to the church the next night to attend.
I confess I enjoy contemporary Christian music more than traditional or what some call “old-timey” music. But, when I’m honest, what I dislike is often the memories connected to it–legalism, narrow-mindedness, bigotry. The problem was the times and sometimes the people, not the music or God.
Music transcends time and place and differences. It slips past our walls and defenses and in an instant connects us vertically to God and horizontally to each other, without us getting in the way. For example, I love old songs like “Down to the River to Pray,” reportedly a slave song. Without understanding why, it washes away all the fatigue and sighs of life and offers hope.
At the hymn sing Sunday night, my mind raced back to a worship service 30 years ago in Durban, South Africa. A small group of American believers were singing with a spirited group of East Indian believers in an open tent in a neighborhood where every house had a pole in the yard honoring whatever hindu god they were worshipping or using to ward off evil spirits. It felt dark just being there. But worship music reminded us God’s light dispels darkness.
I remembered a trip to Belfast, Northern Ireland, where the city was recovering from its 22nd bombing in its decades-long civil war. Military police confiscated my camera because I shot pictures of their convoy and they feared they were being targeted for assassination. Each time we entered a store to shop for souvenirs, security guards searched our bags for weapons. But at a 700-year old church in Belfast, Christians and Catholics were holding a reconciliation conference. Worship music broke down walls of hostility and peace actually seemed possible.
God is still going about the business of using music to zing past our jadedness or busyness or whatever else interrupts our relationship with him and each other. It can happen anywhere.
Yesterday, my women’s small group met at church to talk about a tough topic. When we began, you could almost feel the collective fatigue of the group from dealing with horrible weather, the demands of small children and/or challenging marriages or life circumstances. No one felt very spiritual.
Amy, our tender-hearted group facilitator, set aside our usual post-study discussion and said, instead, she had a gift for us. She took us into the sanctuary where a huge pile of colorful blankets lay piled by the door. She knew the sanctuary would not be heated on a weekday morning, so she invited us to grab a blanket and scatter through the sanctuary for time alone with God. No agenda. Just open-ended, blissful time and space to be with the One who knows so well–any time and any place–what our hearts and spirits need.
At the end, we huddled together near the front, looking like a crazy band of gypsies wrapped in our giant colorful blankets. One woman pulled out her iPhone and cued up this song, which we sang together. Once again music helped remind us God is still in charge. He hasn’t written the last chapter of our story. He will make all things right in the end.
Thank you, God, for music.