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Music to Lift Your Soul

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Staff Member
Music to Lift Your Soul - March 29, 2006

If you are still suffering from the winter's cold, this story will warm you up.

Last August, my sister, her husband, and three of their grandchildren came out East to see the sights in Washington D.C. because the kids had never been there before. If you've ever visited the U.S. capitol city in August, the only people in town, they say, are the tourists, because everyone else knows it is smart to get out of town. After all, the so called "capitol of the free world" was built on a literal swamp and every August produces enough sweat to fill five lakes.

We stepped into the cool, welcoming space of National Christian Church near downtown, one of the United Church of Christ's flagship churches. It was purely an effort to get out of the muggy climate. I had attended one meeting at the church and knew it was open to the public and had interesting architecture, so on that ruse, we headed inside, wanting any respite from the humidity and heat that we could find.

The receptionist said it was fine to visit the sanctuary but to be prepared for a little noise. About 75 children from a local summer enrichment program were practicing a musical number for the upcoming Sunday service.

But nothing could have fully prepared me as we stepped inside those doors. Bongos, keyboard and a full-bodied soprano belted out a full-volume African chorus. Children aged four and older swayed, tapped and swung up the long aisle while singing along. Colorful clothing, beads and hair ribbons brightened the somber grays of the sanctuary. And when the director stopped them all to remind them to smile because this was a joyous dance, the natural and pasted on smiles quickly infected all.

We are in the season of the church year marked by somber colors and the repentant hymns of Lent. Too often, we in the religious community sing like that all year long: slow, mournful dirges that do nothing to represent the joy and celebration of a faithful life. White, Anglo-Saxon Protestants are learning from the emerging church all over the world a thing or two about music, celebration, using musical instruments and dance.

Mission workers who recently arrived in South Africa said they were having a little trouble getting used to the "jumping up and down" experience in worship. I saw a video of it, too, and it was quite amazing: a true athletic, aerobic experience. But this man, Phil, had a new insight when he listened to stories of people coming out of completely dysfunctional family situations and now expressing joy about finding a new family in their church community. The man was thrilled for the church to fill that void in his life. Phil said, "And then it dawned on me: That's something worth jumping about!"

I'm not ready to jump, either, but I am ready to swing and sway to rhythmic music. I also like the grand old hymns of the church, and, on occasion, a building-rattling pipe organ. At a recent funeral, the sound of a bagpipe (outside, as persons arrived) felt especially appropriate. Inside the organ played an all-stops-pulled-out rendition of "O God Our Help in Ages Past," and the old stones of the church built in 1742 shook in awesome reverberation.

Many people go to church mainly for the music. They may quickly forget the sermon, but have a hymn stuck in their head all week. Like the old slogan goes, "He (she) who sings, prays twice." Many a youth has been coaxed to church only for the music.

We went into that church in Washington D.C. that oppressive August day looking for relief from the heat. I left rejuvenated by the joyful music, with hopefulness restored for the future of the church and society. Our feet were tapping and our faces smiling. Our souls were lifted to experience life on a different plane. This is what music in worship can do for us.

There is room for all this music and more in God's kingdom. I hope you have moving and deep worship and music experiences during this season of Lent and Easter!

Contributed by Melodie Davis: [email protected] Melodie is the author of eight books and writes a syndicated newspaper column, Another Way