Church based music worship. It’s a curious thing that I have devoted much of my life to.
Prospects of employment & economic remuneration are slim at best, and yet, one can make a career out of it. Or is it more of a vocation? My non church friends are kind & polite whenever I am asked about what I do, or why I’m not available most Sunday mornings. I can tell though, that there are usually more frank questions that could be asked than the blanket acceptance that public conversation allows for. Any question about playing music in church, about why I am hardly available on Sundays, about why I write so much faith based music, or about why I rarely go away at Easter time; on the periphery, the answers to these questions have a range of responses available but at the very core of the possible answers is a belief structure, an understanding of spirituality and a deeply held conviction about all of these things that dictate how I respond. Sadly, the opportunity to have a “core” discussion is rarely possible, so you end up having a discussion on the periphery, which is fine; but the core is where the good stuff is.
I have so many friends that I walk this road with. These people keep me going & I hope I play some part in keeping them going. On a week to week basis I get to hang with so many wonderful musicians and singers that have also heard and answered (are answering) that core belief call. We make music, we sing, we do life together and we explore faith, the human spirit & the worship of the living God. On a broader level there is a multi faith, multi dimensional connection with other church based muso’s where we rarely get to make music together but these people, my peers if you will, challenge me, encourage me & inspire me. Just recently I had a work trip to Perth. Whenever I get to Perth, I get to spend some time with one such person. Her passion for liturgically based worship that is authentic is infectious. I love watching her open up about the possibility for a local and a global growth in the how people engage in such deep worship.
Worship is the thing though; it’s such a conundrum in this contemporary culture. There are so many critics from within and without the church. Sometimes the criticism is laid on so thick by the people at closest range, that I wonder why I bother. But I know the answer to that one. One popular criticism from the secular realm is “why is God so egotistical that He needs us to worship Him?” That’s a good question and worthy of a glass of red wine and a chat. My response is best explained by the author C.S. Lewis. In his book, “reflections on the Psalms”,in which he mused about the phenomenon of worship. He says
“The world rings with praise—lovers praising their mistresses, readers their favorite poet, walkers praising the countryside, players praising their favorite game—praise of weather, wines, dishes, actors, motors, horses, colleges, countries, historical personages, children, flowers, mountains, rare stamps, rare beetles, even sometimes politicians or scholars.”
The whole chapter on worship explores this in more detail. One of the conclusions that he draws which I love is that “praise does more than express enjoyment, it actually “completes the enjoyment; it is its appointed consummation.” Taken in that light, it is suggesting that God has given us the gift of praise (and worship), not to fill His ego but to allow us a way to deepen and express what we have found out about Him. In the very act of emptying ourselves in worship and praising God, we gain something. I love that.
This is such a vast subject. Centuries of tradition, great music, bad music, incredible practitioners, and people of lesser ability who just want to express themselves, plus everything in between; these have made their mark for better or worse. I get to stand on the shoulders of all of this and plot my own course.
At a personal level worship music has had, and still has a profound influence on me. There are still times when I am so moved by what is happening in the moment that I can barely sing. I still look forward to gathering with my church family each week (well, most weeks!!). There are still moments when I am moved into that spiritual dimension that I can make no rational sense of but I know that something profound has just occurred, deep inside me. My greatest joy is reserved for those moments when we are leading a congregation in worship, and you look out across the room to see people fervently losing themselves in the moment. It’s then that you realise that what Jesus promised via the Holy Spirit (there’s at least another glass of red wine to discuss that one) is real & it’s really happening, changing peoples lives for the better. It’s in those moments that I know how privileged I am to be doing what I do. All the theology, the resonance & dissonance goes out the door & you are left with the reality of what is happening in the here and now, and it’s a beautiful thing.
So, to all my comrades in arms, I salute you; keep on fighting this good fight. If I had a million bucks I would find a way to fund as many of you as I could. To all of my friends who are reading this & seeing a side of me that they never knew, this is the core of who I am and what I believe. I’m not a preacher so I would never preach to you, but would happily chat about some of the deeper stuff anytime.
For now, I will continue to turn up, play, encourage, write songs & record music that explores the parameters of this ancient & sacred tradition