I recently attended a concert. The two artists were ones that I grew up listening to, and who I watched in concert a few times back in the late 80's/early 90's. I've always enjoyed their music, more so one than the other, but still I was interested to see both of them again. I think I wanted to see how we all had changed - 20 years have passed.
Shortly before I made my way to the concert - it was three hours away - I found out that a friend's wife had passed away unexpectedly. His wife is a few years younger than I am - in her early to mid-30's. She had no health issues, her death was the result of a doctor's mistake.
As I sat at the concert, my thoughts returned to my friend many times. He is a good person - funny, hard-working, caring. I kept thinking how much he must be hurting right now, and how hard it must be to know what to say to his three young children about their mother's death. I enjoyed the show. Still, part of me struggled to enjoy the time. My thoughts continued to fall back to my friend.
As the music turned more religious in nature, I was a bit surprised at the crowd's reaction. The crowd was clearly of the conservative Christian bent, and they identified more fully with this genre than I did/do. And while I recalled that part of the artist's music from years earlier, I was still sort of taken aback by the euphoria that swept the crowd. People were crying, lifting their arms to heaven and swaying with eyes closed. The concert turned into a bit of a revival. I felt more than slightly out of place.
I have always struggled with this manifestation of faith. I'm not certain why. After all, I cry more than the average person. I feel things deeply, and I'm not particularly embarrassed of being emotional most days. As I greeted my friend at his wife's wake tonight, he and I both cried. I embraced him and we both shared tears for his loss. This display of emotion didn't bother me, in the sense that it felt natural to share my tears with his. I told him I loved him and I was so very sorry for his loss. He cried into my shoulder and thanked me for being there. I don't harbor any notions that I was really all that helpful, but my feelings overflowed, and it felt like the most natural thing to have happen.
Still, I've never really understood the hands lifted, teary-eyed sort of worship. I used to think my reservations were really just a matter of upbringing. I grew up in a stoic, Germanic Lutheran tradition. We didn't cry. We didn't laugh, and we didn't applaud during church. It was as simple as that. In college, I made my way to the Episcopal church early on, and again, we aren't known for our effusiveness during worship. Still, I've experienced enough charismatic worship over the years that it doesn't shock my sensibilities at this moment in my life..
I think at least part of me looks at the displays and finds them disingenuous. People can't all be moved at the same moment by the same things...I think maybe some of it seems too much of an act for me. As I was waiting to greet my friend at his wife's funeral visitation, I was talking with a friend who is far more conservative and outwardly religious than I am. As he approached the grieving widower, he began to tell him that "God would see him through." And that "God had a plan." His words struck me. Not because I agree with him necessarily, but because he was doing what he knew to do. In his moments of distress and fear, these things were all he knew to offer. He didn't cry, and he didn't offer much of an embrace. It was clear the entire messy business of life and death was making him uncomfortable. As I held my friend, and cried with him, I patted his back like I often pat my children when they cry. It was all I knew to do.
On my drive home, it struck me, we all have different ways of connecting to God and to each other. Some of us are called to cry with one another when the pain gets too intense. Others of us stay strong because it seems like the person who is hurting needs strength. Some of us sit quietly in our pews listening to someone(s) talk about God. We pray, we hear and we leave. This experience of God is part of our lives, but is not IT for us. My encounters with God are ongoing, deep and authentic. But they tend to be quiet encounters. God comes to me where I am, and how I am.
Some people I know need a different way of meeting God. They want emotion and they want it to "feel" like something. This hasn't been my experience, but it is not any less real for those who have this experience. My friend at the funeral was saying what comforts him most in his own distress. And that is a gift, even if it is awkward or ill-informed or perhaps even insensitive. It was what he knew to do. I believe God hopes we can give this - to do what we know to do. To love one another, even if imperfectly.
I'm not likely to ever feel at home in a "worship band" sort of church experience, but I recognize those who do as my brothers and sisters.