I want to start this entry out by stating that I know 99.9% of Christian worship music is probably not really good music. People tell me that a lot and it’s probably true. It’s also not really the point. For most of my life that I can remember, I loved the worship part of church. I have absolutely no doubt that part of it was because I got a lot of positive feedback for it. People were always telling me, even when I was a little girl, that I had a beautiful voice and I lapped up praise like a hungry puppy. That continued into my adulthood although by the time I became an adult I knew enough to know that while my voice is decent, it’s not amazing. I know amazing and I know what I have. In spite of that, I still respond in very overwhelmed fashion to compliments.
That was not all of it though. It wasn’t even half of it. Especially as I got into high school and I started going to a more “charismatic” church. I discovered raising hands in worship, I discovered dancing and jumping around. This was new and exciting, I had never seen anything like it. I had never seen people expressing themselves like that before, never seen people who seemed so excited about God. It felt natural to me. As I grew up, I evened out a bit on that front. I would stop dancing, stop jumping. But I always raised my hands, closed my eyes. It was intimate, it was quiet. Out of everything I ever did in the whole faith part of my life, it was pretty much the only thing that consistently made me feel something resembling close to God.
I learn songs quickly, I sing fairly well. Praise songs are particularly easy to pick up. I don’t want to give the impression I was completely non-discriminatory because that wasn’t true. There was a huge portion of Christian music I had zero patience for and a good part of worship music I found repetitive and too trite. I preferred complex songs or songs written by people I knew to praise choruses any day. But I would go to church most weeks and no matter what I thought of the sermon (pretty hit and miss much of the time), no matter how frustrated I sometimes was by people, no matter how tired I got of talk of money and any number of other things… when we sang I felt like it mattered. I felt a connection, not just with God but with the people around me. It is one of the primary things that gave me certainty, one of the things that kept me there as long as I stayed.
I have removed most of the Christian music from my music player, with the exception of Jars of Clay who I still just like for the most part (although listening to them in the wrong mood can be a bit painful). But the other day I was walking and listening to music and one I had missed came up. It was “What Do I Know of Holy” which I’m sure is one of those songs that may not be that good, I don’t really know. But I listened to it a lot for a while there. Usually I just skip them when I run across them but for some reason I didn’t this time.
I’ve made you promises a thousand times
I try to hear from heaven
But I talk the whole time
I think I made you too small
I never feared you at all
If I touch your face, will I know you?
Look into your eyes, could I behold you?
What do I know of you
Who spoke me into motion?
Where have I even stood
But the shore along your ocean
Are you fire, are you fury
Are you sacred? Are you beautiful?
So what do I know? What do I know of Holy?
I guess I thought that I had figured you out
I knew all the stories and I learned to talk about
How you were mighty to save
But those were only empty words on a page
Then I caught a glimpse of who you might be
The slightest hint of you brought me down to my knees
What do I know of Holy?
What do I know of wounds that will heal my shame?
And a God that gave life its name?
What do I know of Holy?
Of the one who the angels praise?
All creation knows your name
On earth and heaven above, what do I know of this love?
~What Do I Know of Holy, Addison Road, © 2008
It’s… complicated. I cried at that song, more than once. I remember thinking about the lines “I talk the whole time” and feeling guilty and ashamed. I wasn’t listening hard enough, I wasn’t being quiet enough. But God’s a terrible boyfriend that way – he doesn’t talk back and then it’s your fault because you didn’t listen. I wanted something that was that big, I guess. I wanted to believe in something like that. There were times I did. There were moments I felt overwhelmed by something that seemed outside of myself. At the time it felt like the best I could hope for. Now it feels like clothes that don’t quite fit anymore. Like my relationship with my parents, it’s something I believed in for years and now in retrospect there are so many cracks and pieces that never seemed to match up. Desperate hope or wanting something to be true doesn’t actually make it true.
But I do miss it. Not all the time, not even most of the time. I still have moments of feeling overwhelmed by beauty, by kindness, by just how damn amazingly brave people can be. But none of them are quite like those moments were and that’s good, it’s best. I wouldn’t go back. Just like I wouldn’t go back to my parents. Still there is a part of me that misses believing what was there. Just believing it was safe, just believing I could fix it, that if I listened hard enough, dug deep enough, tried a little harder, I would find something and this time, this time it would be enough. It doesn’t sound so great when written out and in truth it wasn’t. But the best you had is the best you had. It kept me going for a long time. I don’t know anything about holy, I don’t know anything about God at all, not even if I think he or she really exists. But in all that time I never found a single wound that healed my shame. And it turns out that my world is full of both beautiful and sacred things. Whatever I may miss, trying to hear from heaven isn’t really one of them. I have more than enough to listen to right where I am.