I should have gone to bed last night. I did not. Instead, I stayed awake in a permanent state. And that state was indescribable. Christian worship can sweep our vessels with any combination of motivations, regrets, or hopes. How we arrive never predicts how we depart and there’s a measure of permanence in that process. A fiery worship experience is not always “joyful” although that’s almost always the intended response. Raise your hands in the sanctuary… exalt the Lord, praise HIM, preachers and teachers beseech. I’ve been attending a community revival all this week. The only day I missed was Tuesday, and only because I needed sleep after a rather involved afternoon shift.
Revivals are act of re-commission. The goal is: to unify God’s worshippers with the goal of their ministry, by reminding them why they affirm their faith in the first place. Either we’re worn down or pumped up by a worship revival. There is never an in-between, unless someone begs you to attend against your will, and that’s always awkward. Revival is never predictable because we cannot anticipate everything that comes back to life within us. Friends revive in the same way, sharing stories, reviewing pasts, feeling emotion. When the time spent concludes, an unexpected return often leads to surprising outcomes. That’s why revivals are strange and an effective revival leads to some permanent state.
It doesn’t matter where you are… things just happen. The choir had just sung “God’s Grace” to prepare for the minister’s sermon. I had heard it before and I was listening intently. After the song concluded, someone unexpectedly sang “God Will Make A Way Somehow”. The sound was squealing, deafening, and nearly impossible. I was overcome with strain wondering what just happened. When the sound subsided, I realized I had heard the person designed to give the sermon. He was a stout black man with a powerfully rich, loud voice. As a came down from what I believed was more clamor than song, I took in a great sermon full of passages that really connected to a main theme which roughly about “ smoke embers symbolizing a fire to be renewed”.
I wrote great notes and words for later study. Near the end of the sermon, he sang again for the Christian invitation, the period when new believers and wandering people join fellowship or recommit to God.
By about the third selection, I recalled John 4:24, that whole sentence about “serving the Lord in spirit and truth”. Spiritually, I was glad to be participating in the service. I was in high spirits every night I had been going. This night was no different or so I believed. But something happened to me. After that third selection, the truth was: Everything was so loud that I really thought I might go deaf.
I heard them all, the pastor included. But did they hear themselves? The service went well enough. They had sang many hopeful songs and some of them were a bit repetitive. I was in a permanent state of wear, so worn that when I got home, I couldn’t sleep. I had been so revived that calming down would be difficult. After dinner, I was so wired with anxiety that I ended up watching Netflix, inhaling two turkey sandwiches, and chatting on Facebook until at least 1 a.m. After the chat went south, I pulled out my Kindle and began reading a novel about a man suffering with PTSD over his son’s death in Afghanistan. I didn’t recover myself until at least 3 a.m, when I finally decided to try and sleep.
What I’d learned is: We don’t get to control what the spirit reveals. If we’re being truthful, not everything that comes up within our spirits is “holy”, there are some really grievous things we all struggle with that aren’t going to be heard over the clamor of joyful choirs, meditative songs, or bombastic sermons.
Earlier before church ended, I saw a woman tell a man who might have been her son, “That should have affected you.” She stared in horror at him because she incredulously thought he would have cried or clapped, or wailed like she had done moments ago. I just remember being sorry for him.
People have a right to respond however they want in church. All some people are able to do is sit and observe. This stoic stance does not mean they numb to what occurs. Maybe, it means they are unsure of what is appropriate.
That son reminded me of the time when my friend Shonda passed away and I had asked Greg, a mutual friend to come to the funeral with me. He had never seen what worship is like in black church and it was all overwhelming to him. I can only imagine that for some, black Christian worship or Christian worship, leaves observers in a permanent a state of shock, that it scares them or looks like a concert rather than a holy, consecrated experience.
Who can blame the person struggling to process the entire nuance in worship? One thing is sure: Sometimes keeping silent is best. The spirit and truth of some congregants will not always be respected or revealed. Be very sure you want to revive what sits next to you sleeping.