Certain church types are really into praise music. They engage in a practice that must strike non-churchies as silly, ridiculous, and maybe even a little embarrassing. They—okay, we—have this bizarre habit of singing at full voice, under the steeple with of all the peeple and also within the privacy of our own earbuds, songs to proclaim doctrinal tenets we hold to be true.
Just tonight, after my swim at the Monon I stepped into the shower room to hear a thin voice over the spigot din singing Amazing Grace, the Chris Tomlin version (9,466,900+ views, zowee). And yes, I joined in to harmonize with the naked stranger four stalls down as I lathered, rinsed, repeated. How could I resist? I mean, “My chains fell off, I’ve been set free”? Also, Elf.
As a matter of obedience and tradition, generations of Christians have sung hymns and other spiritual songs to connect the corporeal and the spiritual while recognizing the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. Doing so is an act of worship, yes, but at its heart, praising musically is part celebration, part theologically acceptable mantra, driven home by Kevin Bacon in an impassioned exegesis of Psalm 149 in the city council scene of the 1984 classic Footloose.
And I think there’s another, more practical reason some of us engage in serial worship song singing: forgetfulness.
As Christians are we not supposed to operate from cell-level assurance of our status as dearly loved children? It’s what we preach. But as run-a-the-mill Earth dwellers with hoomin brains and limited capacity for memory we lose sight of the part about being created “in God’s image” and “a little lower than the angels.” For whatever reason we can’t help but insist on clinging to a self worth baseline that keeps us stuck feeling unloved, even unlovable.
Enter the psalmists and songwriters, who, since 1000 B.C., have penned songs to: 1) Help us praise God and 2) Help us forgetful sheep to remember that God’s nature is love. And this was before existential angst was invented.
By singing these songs in church, our cars, at home in private or with a naked soprano at the gym, we call on the lyrics to remind ourselves that we don’t completely suck; and when the lyrics are set to music we like, we are elevated to a state where we even feel loved and lovable, at least temporarily. If we can get that, if we can apprehend God’s love, we’ll have a chance of passing that love along to others, which pretty much sums up the greatest commandments according to Jesus:
Matthew 22:36-40 New International Version (NIV)
36 “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?”
37 Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’[a] 38 This is the first and greatest commandment. 39 And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’[b] 40 All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”
Check back in a day or 2 for “Praise Craze Part 2: Love Take Me, Love Take Me Over, Especially When A Smoker With A Handicap Tag Pulls Into A Handicap Parking Space and Nimbly Skips Up To The Target Entrance While I’m Trying To Have Church In My Car With The David Crowder Band”