It is Sunday morning. I’m on a terraced rooftop, a little oasis in the big city, while a worship service goes on below me. I wanted to be in church this morning, I really did. I tried.
It was quiet and welcoming when I came into the ‘sanctuary’, with instrumental music in the background and the lights at half intensity. A friend sat next to us and we were able to greet each other and talk quietly. The worship team stepped up and welcomed us a few minutes later. The lights went down to illuminate only the worship team, and in a hushed voice the lead singer invited us into prayer.
“Amen,” she concluded, and before my head could come up again there was a crash of drums so loud I flinched. The band was off at top volume, the lyrics to an energetic praise song flashing up on the many overhead screens, the spotlight on the stage. The drums and the amplified music were the only sensation I could experience, so intense I couldn’t process the words or even hear my husband singing next to me. My eyes teared up and my shoulders shrank in upon themselves as the sheer noise impacted my entire body; my pulse began to throb irregularly, and after the second chorus at top volume I had to escape, scuttling out the (thankfully close) back exit.
Let us pause here, before you assume this is going to be another diatribe against modern praise and worship music. I sway and clap and raise my hands with unselfconscious joy in workshop, and I’ve been in every kind of service from Hutterite to Orthodox, Vineyard to Dutch Reform. I can meet God under a wide variety of circumstances – and He can be found in every place and setting. So what was the ‘problem’ here? What drove me – literally – out of that service this morning? And why bother to write about it?
Well, I do battle depression, chronic fatigue, and fibromyalgia symptoms, and a calm environment is definitely more healing to my soul and body. I am also an INFJ and a HSP, but that’s not the issue either. I wouldn’t expect an entire church service to adapt itself to my ‘special needs’ and preferences.
So, why the serious discomfort I’m feeling, the tension, the…dare I identify it, anger? Shouldn’t I have a right to expect a sanctuary to be, yes, a sanctum, a safe place? Does jubilation trump anxiety? Shouldn’t praise triumph over depression? Is every else around me just as happy and grateful as the words they are (I assume, because I can see lips moving) singing?
And then – just now, actually, as I type this – I realize I am asking the wrong questions. I am focused on the wrong person. Worship isn’t about me and what I experience. It’s about God and what I bring. What we bring….but then I get angry all over again and think, wait justaminnit!
In that case, why are the spotlights on the ‘band’ and the ‘lead singer’? Why is the music ‘performed’ and dominated by them, rather than the ‘audience’ that the congregation has become? Why has this hour that we meet together become about their gifts, the youthful pastor’s power and enthusiasm, the admittedly great preaching…rather than about what we bring to God?
I want to offer my sung gratitude. My husband, perhaps, wants time to collect his thoughts for prayer and lift his own requests to the Lord. That tired mother, the smiling teen, my friend in the next seat, the newly weds: each of them have their unique incense, their particular perfume and savor to the Spirit. They have a prayer to raise, a song to sing, gifts to give.
Could we maybe examine how we meet together with thoughtful gentleness, to respect that diversity and those gifts? To ensure that we do not ‘drum out’ – with noisy praise or droned hymns, with shallow gossip or condemnatory precepts, with cheap sentiment or angry denunciations – those who come for spirit and truth, the seekers and the found lambs, the joyful or the weary?
Here’s hoping that the rhythm of divine rule keeps my heart beating more strongly than the thump of the bass, next Sunday.