By Geila Rajaee
It seems natural these days when I attend worship services in communities that I am not generally accustomed to, that I can be found standing at the back of the room or just outside of the doors of the sanctuary as the service begins. Waiting for the music to end so I can re-join the community without feeling sucked back into an unhealthy time warp.
My faith communities in my teenage and young adult years were all fairly similar with praise songs from groups like Hill Song or Steven Curtis Chapman to lead the ‘charge’ into a Sunday worship service. We sang with our arms lifted, our palms out stretched and returned to the endless loop of a catch chorus. For a time, this style of worship felt like it drew my closer to God.
Then something stopped working and the music, the worship broke apart for me.
My relationship with a particular worship style often in ‘contemporary’ (whatever that means) worship services became strained after years of doubting. Doubting, as I have written before, is written into the code, the DNA of my faith. In these upbeat or emotion driven songs I found myself lost, disconnected from anything around me. I stopped feeling even remotely connected to my community, my voice had no desire to lift songs of praise, and, even worse, I felt even more isolated from God.
I get that for many people the transition to contemporary or praise and worship music (again, what in world does that mean? How did it get that designation?) was/is their point of connection within a church service that made them feel closer to God and God’s presence. For me, however, it was and is a stark reminder of the unhealthy patterns I had let go of in my ‘divorce’ from the church of my youth.
My values regarding church worship and music has certainly changed. Whereas I had once felt something positive and meaningful in those praise songs now I find greater joy and meaning in sharing in an old hymn.
Even when I sing off key.
In a time when I struggled with what felt like a self-promoting praise chorus, I found joy in a shared language that reached across generations. Being able to sing a song that countless men and women had sung in congregations across the country, across the world found a sense of connectedness that contemporary praise music just couldn’t hit.
One of the last times I attended the ‘cool’ local church in my college town, I remember having to stand outside of the sanctuary after arriving late. The church ushers were given instructions to be mindful of the mood being created in the sanctuary space. Years later I still reflect on this moment with confusion and dose of frustration.
Now, I know that not all contemporary praise music is created equal… but the style I reject is one that tells no gospel story and that is more glam than substance.
Today my love for good liturgy and music is grounded in some of our more “Lutheran” roots in Covenant. I like a good hymn, extending my hands to receive the grace of God in communion, and joining in voice, mind and heart in confession. In these things I feel the presence of God most plainly and ever so closely.