Monday, June 11, 2012

Sunday Morning: Sing and Testify

Today was Seattle First Baptist Church's 'Music Sunday 2012'. Once Dad and I were settled in his fourth row pew on the far left and the service began, I discovered that every moment of song would testify to the ways that music creates community and brings us closer to whatever is 'spirit'.
With the first hymn, 'God of Grace and God of Laughter', I was home. The words and the melody spoke to me and I sang. Dad was quiet, listening to me. I regretted not hearing his tenor voice and suddenly I missed Mom. Thing is, I never ever hear or sing a hymn without tears or a lump in my throat, because church choral music is Mom. Always has been. And it's Dad too. As Mom always said, "Your dad's tenor voice colors the whole section."
Dad leaned over after the hymn and said, "You did a nice job of it."
The older I get, the more wonderful it feels to have a parent who is still on this earth and whose eyes light up when I enter his room. We three siblings have been lucky these last few years. Dad praises and appreciates and says he is so proud of each of us. There's a lot of love.
Within moments, the choir director involved the entire congregation in a three part round.

                   "Sing for joy, all the earth, to the Lord your God and Maker!
                     Play for God and all the earth, and delight the great Creator.

                    Poet, painter, music maker, all your talents bring;
                    Craftsman, actor, graceful dancer, make your offering.

                    Come to us, creating spirit, tune us to your word.
                    Harmonize our different voices. Let our praise be heard."

Then came to offertory and the piano and organ began to play off one another. I began to think about black church music and how a congregation manifests spirit with song. Some singers stay in the church with gospel music and others leave for clubs and rhythm and blues. A split and yet, I think there is no real split. It is all soul and spirit.  Suddenly, I also had more empathy for Evangelical churches that bring drums and electric guitars to services. Their music seemed banal, but it must touch their congregations in much the same way Seattle First Baptist Church's 'Music Sunday' was touching me.
Whatever works?

I remembered Barbara Ehrenreich's book, 'Dancing in the Streets, A History of Collective Joy'. Here's what her website says about us all:

"(she) explores a human impulse that has been so effectively suppressed that we lack even a term for it: the desire for collective joy, historically expressed in revels of feasting, costuming, and dancing.
"Drawing on a wealth of history and anthropology, Barbara Ehrenreich uncovers the origins of communal celebration in human biology and culture. From the earliest orgiastic Mesopotamian rites to the medieval practice of Christianity as a “danced religion” and the transgressive freedoms of carnival, she demonstrates that mass festivities have long been central to the Western tradition. 
"In recent centuries, this festive tradition has been repressed, cruelly and often bloodily. But as Ehrenreich argues in this original, exhilarating, and ultimately optimistic book, the celebratory impulse is too deeply ingrained in human nature ever to be completely extinguished."

This morning's church service got even better when the choir began to sing 'High Lonesome Mass', accompanied by Bluegrass Band. The banjo did it. The choir sang, we sang. Everyone was part of the music.
And here is the affirmation of faith this morning:
     "We believe in a god who is never confined to our imagining,
      is never in bondage to our beliefs,
      and never held fast in our dwelling places,
      ...We celebrate this God who leaps free of all our boundaries,
      in love stretching out from horizon to horizon,
      and in mercy bending deep into fragile human hearts."

Something I could grab on to. The sermon was short and offered a definition of Baptist testimony. Baptists believe testimonies, not creeds. It's a listening to one another's stories. Music and testimony. It was quite a morning. I've always felt we are all made for music and dancing. It's the way we catch the spirit. Who knows? My lapsed Presbyterian self might not be unchurched if I could attend Seattle First Baptist - and if 'Music Sunday' were every Sunday.

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