My earliest memories of church are all about music: I loved rhythm, melody instruments, singing, and lyrics. I remember vividly the first time I managed to follow along with a hymn instead of having my mother help me by pointing to the words. As I got older, I was able to use my musical talent at church: Playing the violin in a string quartet, singing a solo, going to choir practice. After marrying and moving overseas, I continued singing at church, and taking voice lessons from a fellow congregant who was a professional opera singer.
Perhaps you believe you can tell where I’m going with this: Music in church became linked, for me, with excellent performance. I spent hours practicing each week to improve my instrument. I would never think of giving less than my best to singing in church, be it a simple antiphon or a complicated festival piece.
But…maybe you can’t tell where I’m going with this, because I could not care less if the person next to me in a pew sings off key, or if the choir lags behind the organ. I don’t expect perfection from anyone else’s voice, even from my own.
What does get to me is when someone outsings everybody else, and it seems that each time I attend a service with music these days, one of those “someones” pops up, someone who, whether they can sing like an angel or not, belts out every hymn and liturgical response as if he or she is alone. I find it jarring. I was brought up to believe that one never claps in church, and that any putting forward of the self during service is not just poor taste, but theologically unsound: When we worship, we are one body.
There I am, this past Sunday, politely and discreetly gritting my teeth as one voice blasts above others. I follow along, and we come to the psalm, and WHAM!:
“Sing to the Lord a new song/Sing to the Lord, all the earth…”
Was that there to catch my attention specifically? It’s certainly within God’s power to do that, although some believe it’s done, and some do not. But catch my attention it did, and it shook something out of head:
I dislike the loud singings of the “someones” because I know if I were the person singing that loudly it would be because I am too much in love with the sound of my own voice.
That is not necessarily why the “someones” are singing loudly. Not at all. This was brought home to me during Father Andrew’s sermon, in which he noted that one person’s glossolalia (speaking in tongues) is another person’s anathema. We all have different worship styles. The “someones” singing loudly might be lost in the love of the Lord. They might be hearing challenged. They might be trying to encourage someone more hesitant.
They might simply love the music.
Why hadn’t I taken this in decades ago? It seems so simple. The mote was in my own eye.
Many of our flaws can and are seen by others, but in this case, either I hid it successfully or no one felt called to point it out to me—and that’s the essential, fascinating, mystical part of being an individual worshipping in community. Even if we have questions, even if we know we have faults, if we show up and stay open, we can learn and grow and change.
As Father Andrew also noted in his sermon, we Episcopalians are often known as the “Frozen Chosen.” So many of my fellow St. Mary’s parishioners might nod inwardly when I say that, as an obedient child from an early age, I loved that every week, everyone in my church did the same thing in the same way at the same time.
We still do so many of those same things, but for me, it’s time to stop paying attention to the sameness and start thinking about the difference. Next week, I plan to be in church, listening—but with my heart, rather than my ears.
- What struck you from this past week’s service?
- Who is that “someone” for you?
- How does your worship translate into you loving people in your life?