Church can be one of the most majestic and intensely personal connections to life a person can experience. What is strange to me is that we all individually know that many of our most intensely spiritual moments rest with music – and more truth is discovered in quiet moments laughing, hugging, and mutual experience with people who ‘get’ us. Yet so many churches wedge our ability to connect by insisting that one type of music is going to free us to connect with God. If the music is alien to you, you are not going to be truly comfortable. “One-size-fits-all” music is as strangely unappealing as universal theology; it pushes us out and away or, if we lucky, only distracts us from a constant connection. God can be recognized inside some unusual people and any music which connects us deeply to the ‘other’ or those intensely human experiences we share in common is by definition ‘heavenly.’
In the right ears, “Nothing Else Matters” by Metallica is religious. My cousin Jimmy taught me this, even though I didn’t initially believe him. Listen to the words and feel them as if someone is asking us to open up and be receptive to a new truth. It’s not for everyone, of course! But it is for some. All genres of music have songs which defy classification and seem to open our hearts.
Expecting an ancient hymn to resonate equally to such a diverse group of humanity reaching out for God is not realistic. Even if people seem similar on the exterior, we can recognize the breadth of difference in how people’s minds work. “Il Mundo” by Il Volo sits on the opposite end of the spectrum – but to the discerning ear, it seems as if angels have grabbed us under each arm and are elevating us to heaven musically. Luckily for me, I find a connection in a huge variety of music and both Metallica and Il Volo transport me to a place which allows me to forget that I’m not necessarily just a corporeal object.
You have a preference in the type of music you enjoy in church. The guy sitting next to you, the one with yellow shoelaces, he probably has another. It’s not logical to expect the same music to resonate in the same way to everyone.
Music is by nature fluid and inconstant. None of the music we call religious would have been recognized as spiritual centuries ago. The way we connect evolves, too. Insisting that music be static is another way to get relegated to the past.
I have done a couple of demonstrations in the past where I’ve taken a non-religious song and told a story with it, explaining a different context and a personal connection to it. This storytelling allows people listening to not only expand, but to realize that another crazy world of preferences exists in parallel to their own. They also see the person sharing the story in a new way. Increasing human connections in this way seems like a fundamental way to connect with our spiritual nature.
Just a thought…