spiritual journey

Joy Shall Not Escape Me

By Dr. Mark Poindexter

I am writing this post on June 30th, an interesting date in my life.  It was two years ago on this date that my wife of twenty-four years, the one to whom I had pledged to love “for better or worse as long as we both should live” told me that she no longer felt that way and wanted out of her vows.  From my perspective, her decision was sudden and unexpected.  It took me down a very dark and difficult path.  It was a journey that in the making of it I was not certain I would ever get through.  The days were long and the lonely nights even longer.  In addition, I had a crisis of faith that left me unable to do the work of a pastor which I had given myself to for twenty-five years.  Two years ago, June 30th marked the beginning of the most difficult time in my life.  My family fell apart and I was questioning whether or not I could continue in my life’s calling.

                Then, one year ago on this date, my son Christopher and I set out to move to Portsmouth, Virginia.  In between June 30th of 2014 and June 30th of 2015, I had recovered enough of myself and my faith to enter the Disciples of Christ relocation process, which is the way pastors and congregations find each other.  Fortunately, I received a call from a church not far from the eastern shore of Virginia.  When I accepted the call, my son, Christopher, asked if he could go with me.  He had been accepted into two different graduate schools to work toward a Master’s degree in mental health counseling.  But after four years of college, he said he was not interested in any more school at that point in his life.  He wanted to work at a gym and become a personal trainer.  I told him that of course he could come with me and try to do what he wanted with his life.  When we sat out on this journey, I wasn’t sure what the future held for either one of us.  I had not been in ministry for a year and was worried about whether or not my voice for preaching and my will for leading had returned.  Christopher had no source of income, only a desire to achieve a dream.

                Now it is June 30th 2016 and life is greatly different for me than it was two years ago.  I serve a congregation that has accepted me where I am at in life.  I feel very blessed to be with them.  I am continuing to rediscover my voice for preaching and the desire to lead in matters of the spirit.  I laugh with parishioners often and we were all laughing when my microphone was left on for the final hymn a couple of Sundays ago.  I do not make a joyful noise when I sing.  Two years ago I thought my laughter had forever left, but it has returned and I am thankful.  The church and I are looking forward to the future and what it holds for us together.  I have also met someone with whom I am developing a new relationship.  A retired firefighter/paramedic she was at Ground Zero in New York hours after 9-11 working to help save lives.  She’s a hero in my book.  Five years ago, she went through the same kind of marital break-up I did.  That we have found each other at this time in our lives is something for which I am very grateful.   Christopher is also doing well.  Two weeks after we moved to Portsmouth, he got a job at the local YMCA.  He works in the exercise room.  He teaches tennis lessons and exercise classes.  He has some individual clients he works with.  And after a year of study and hard work he became a certified personal trainer this week.  In addition to his work at the YMCA, he has a second job at the General Nutrition Center (GNC) and plans to go back to school this fall to take some business courses with the desire to manage and possibly own his own gym someday.  I heard him tell someone the other day that he loved his work at the Y.  I am happy for him and so very proud of him.

                The move has not been without some struggles.  I miss a lot of my Indiana friends – especially my bicycle riding group.  The pictures from our rides together come up on Facebook and I wish I was still pedaling with them.   I miss being just twenty minutes from my sister and her family.  My sister and I are the last ones from our family of origin and I wish we could spend more time together.  And I dearly miss my daughter, Michele.  She stayed behind in Indiana to go to college.  We text and talk every day, but my heart has a hole in it when she is not around.   Christopher is also discovering what life is like as an adult who has bills to pay and obligations to meet.  He has made some new friends, but I know he has also missed some of his Indiana friends during this time in his life. 

I wanted to write about my personal journey over the past two years for a couple of reasons.  First, I wanted to provide some hope to those who might be where I was two years ago, in the depths of despair.  If they happen across this post, I want them to know there can be a tomorrow that is brighter and fuller than the darkness and emptiness they know today.  I know that it is sometimes a hard word to hear, but it is a true one.  Joy can be found again, laughter can be rediscovered, love can be felt and happiness can be known.  Don’t give up.  Don’t become bitter.  Don’t think the darkness has the final word.  It doesn’t have to.

Second, I wanted to say that I don’t believe that all that has happened to me was part of “God’s plan.”  I don’t think God ever intended for my marriage to end and for me to have a crisis of faith that took me to a place that I had never been and didn’t know if I would make it back from.  I think God’s heart was grieved as deeply, maybe even more so, than my own.  I don’t think there is a divine plan that includes the illness of children, tragic deaths of loved ones or betrayal by people we trust.  What I do believe, is that I had enough residue of faith even in the midst of my pain that my heart was open to the grace God extended in new possibilities and new relationships.   God didn’t plan my journey for me, but God wasn’t going to leave me alone on the path life had dealt me.  With what little faith I still had, God stayed with me and through that sacred companionship I found what life still had to offer.  For that I am grateful.

Sometimes with my [D]mergent posts, or even in my preaching, I wonder if I share too much about my own life and journey.  I know there is so much more to life than my own story, matters of peace and justice and creation care.  Matters about which I care deeply and have given much time to.  Yet it is primarily in my own life and experiences that I find and know the Sacred One.  The One who empowers me to work on matters larger than myself.   I share my story with the hope that others can find that Divine presence in their own lives as well.  Two years ago, I thought my life had fallen completely apart and much of the life I knew indeed had.  But it is two years later and life is much different.  I would rather not have taken this journey, but I had to.  I had no choice. But I have endured and found again the grace and beauty that is Life.  Peace!

Open Doors

By Rev. Mindi

During the entire first half of 1998, from January until June, I attended one worship service. It was the folk mass at my host family’s Catholic Church in England. Before I had left the states for my semester abroad, several people had told me about various churches—Baptist, Methodist, Anglican—that I could attend while I was abroad. But I chose not to. I chose, quite purposefully, not to attend worship the rest of that spring. 

I was at a crossroads in my faith. I had been part of a few conservative Christian campus ministry groups, and found that while I enjoyed the spirit of the music and the community, I could not abide by the legalistic approach to the Bible nor the narrow theology. I was also involved in our campus’ Gay-Straight Alliance group (this was the late 90’s), was reading feminist literary theory and I always claim that my Introduction to Sociology course the fall of my junior year saved me from fundamentalism forever. While I attended a fairly liberal congregation in college, I found my faith conflicted—I loved the spirit of worship among my conservative friends, the relational nature of God in Jesus that was expressed—but not the narrow ideology. During that time in my life, Christian community was stifling. I equated Christian community with conformity, and liberal or conservative, I did not want to conform. So I chose not to attend a worship service.

However, I was in a church, a chapel, a cathedral or other sanctuary at least every week, if not more often. I lit candles in York Minster and Notre Dame, sat and listened to the choir in Westminster and Winchester, and lifted my eyes up to the stained glass everywhere. I sat in the pews and lit candles under the names of saints I had never heard of.

I grew up Baptist, and am a Baptist minister serving in both American Baptist and Disciples congregations. But in those days, having the opportunity in those old Anglican and Catholic churches to pray, to sit and be silent in the presence of God—or even in the emptiness in some of those dark days of my faith journey—helped me in my faith journey.  It is something I lament in the free church tradition, that often we do not have our sanctuaries open.  The few times I have participated in opening the doors of my own churches I have served have been after major tragedies, such as 9/11 and Sandy Hook. Most of the time, our doors are locked.

In the debates about SBNR (Spiritual But Not Religious) what often gets argued is the need for community—and the assumptions that those who are not in church do not have community. But I am starting to wonder if those of us in the church have been arguing from the wrong angle. Besides the fact that many people who claim to be spiritual gather in other settings for community, what about those who are seeking, or who are spiritual, or even *gasp* religious, but find community stifling? What about those who have been wounded in community?

Are there ways we can be open, be a place of prayer to the public, where people can come and pray, or sit in silence, or listen to music, or light candles? Our Catholic and Episcopalian brothers and sisters, among others, have kept up this ancient tradition, but many of us in the free church tradition have forgotten. We have placed such great emphasis on community that we have forgotten other’s needs. There are times in people’s lives in which community can do more harm than good. But it is the work of the community in providing the space set aside specifically for God, that can reach those in need of solitude.

I still value community and worship together. When I returned from England, it took me a while to get back into church, but I remember clearly the first worship service I attended when I came back was Communion Sunday, and I was never so glad to participate in the breaking of bread and the meal of remembrance with the church I had been raised in, with the people who had always been there for me. But I wouldn’t have appreciated it nearly as much had I not had the time away. I also feel that had it not been for the open churches, the candles in the chapels and the opportunities to pray or sit in silence, I would not have felt as assured of God’s presence even in my own dark valleys.

 

 

Speaking the Language

By Rev. Mindi

“Does she know the Word?” the salesperson asked me. I blinked for a moment again. “Does she read the Bible?”

I understood her the first time, I was just taken back for a moment, remembering another time. Stepping into a commercial Christian bookstore is a timewarp for me, reminders of getting saved at Friday night youth rallies (and more than once), high school Bible study groups and college campus prayer gatherings.  I was also reminded of my brief ministry in the South.

“No,” I replied, “but she wants to start.”  The salesperson put back the awkward bulky study Bible she had pulled down for me when I said I wanted a study Bible, and went instead to a more devotional easy-to-read NIV Bible with softbound cover. Not something I would ever have picked for myself, but this would work for the person I had in mind. “This is perfect. Thank you.”

Sometimes I forget that I ever spoke that language. I grew up in a mainline, progressive church start. In junior high I was already questioning the idea of a male God. I was given a copy of the New Revised Standard Version of the Bible as a baptism present in 1991, with great study notes. I was already pouring over liberal commentaries in my pastor’s office in high school.

But my church was small, and though we had a youth group that met occasionally, I ended up wandering in and out of the youth group gatherings of my friends. These gatherings were high-energy, had great music, fun games, and a lot of bad theology. At one church we were told if we didn’t have a believer’s baptism it didn’t count; at another if we didn’t receive the Holy Spirit we couldn’t go to heaven; at still another, we were once yelled at and lectured for forty-five minutes about the sin of lust.  Still, despite the bad theology and messages that gave me chills, there was a language I learned that I began to use and incorporate into my faith life.  This language included phrases such as “God is opening a door,” or “the Spirit is moving,” “walking with Jesus," and "Getting right with God."

I’ve lost this language over the years. It was language that was familiar to me and what I used in writing my seminary application essays, but after my first year of seminary it dropped away. I suppose I felt silly thinking of God opening doors for me in an academic setting, where I needed to be rational.  My daily devotional reading that I began when I was thirteen fell away along with my evening prayers. I delved into books and became a scholar. Even my ordination paper, in which I described my faith journey, was empty of this language as I focused on the more heavy topics of eschatology and ecclesiology using wordy theological terms to share what I believed.

But language is woven into my spiritual life and is part of who I am. The language that I learned in those evangelical circles became part of my blood and was waiting to come back to the surface again. But it needed to be authentic. Sometimes, when we lived in the South, those phrases came out so I could fit in.  They weren’t heartfelt and they made me feel like a fraud.

Over time, I have met people who grew up in church but haven’t been part of church for a while. Sometimes they describe themselves as having “fallen away.” While I don’t like to use that phrase for its negative implications, I understand where people are coming from and why they may feel that way.  I met someone now who wants to “get back into the Word.” So I went to the commercial Christian bookstore, knowing there I could find people who would speak the same language.

When I first was going to seminary, I used the language of following where God was leading me, and learning that there was more than one right path. Now, no longer believing there is a path set out, a divine plan for everyone, I find myself coming back to that language of following where God leads—but recognizing that God is leading us all, always, in all things.

I remember once in seminary a professor talking about the old hymns that he grew up with, hymns that spoke of being washed in the blood. What a terrible image! But he found he could still sing the songs. And I find myself coming back to the same place. I can still sing the songs (well, most of them), I can still speak the language, it still is within me though I may filter it differently. I still hear Jesus calling me, I still feel God putting words on my heart, and I still know the Spirit is moving me on this journey of faith.

Unfortunate Assumptions

By Rev. Mindi

“You have to be in community in order to experience God.”

“You have to be in a covenantal relationship in order for true community to be upheld.”

“To be spiritual but not religious is just a cop-out.”

“We welcome everyone who welcomes everyone.”

All four of these sayings I have heard uttered by more than one progressive, liberal, open and affirming, postmodern pastor or church leader.  All four of these sayings, sadly, make assumptions that actually keep people from wanting to go to church, which I am sure is not their intent.

“You have to be in community in order to experience God.”

When we look at the Bible, we do find many examples of community: the early house churches, the Disciples, the communities of the Hebrews after the exile, Israel and Judah, the twelve Tribes, the band of wanderers in the desert—even going back to Jacob’s family, or Abraham and Sarah and their entourage—there was a community.  However, the statement implies usually that those outside of the church seeking spirituality are not in a community. All too often, we assume someone is not part of an existing community. And I’m not talking a church or Bible study. I meet people all the time who are in community, even spiritual community, without necessarily setting foot into a church or existing church community: book groups, 12-step programs, coffee shop gatherings, the local diner where the locals gather, the Farmer’s markets, the picket lines—there are plenty of places where community happens that has spiritual components. I’ve been part of many communities outside of church where prayer, questioning, meditating, social action, concern and care take place. We need to strip away the assumptions that those outside of the church are not in community already.

“You have to be in a covenantal relationship in order for true community to be upheld.”

What that sounds like to someone who doesn’t use covenantal language on a daily basis (and trust me, fewer in the church actually do than we think they do, but I digress…) is that there is some sort of contract, some sort of membership clause that makes everything official, and if you don’t sign on the dotted line, it’s not official. I’ve had pastors argue this with me all the time. We need to unpack what it means to be in a covenantal relationship. When God makes a covenant with the people of Israel in the wilderness, God does not require them all to sign a contract. Rather, they make an affirmation of faith in the community, together. I’ve seen some churches do this better—a yearly affirmation of the covenant, rather than a one-time membership course and public declaration of membership.  But the assumption is again that people on the outside of the church aren’t in a covenantal relationship, or that those who visit church but haven’t joined aren’t ready for that kind of commitment. They may be ready for that commitment, but don’t want to join through an outdated “you’re in the club” membership system that too many of our churches use.

And there’s also the assumption that some kind of commitment needs to be made verbally or in writing. More and more often, I am meeting couples who are choosing not to get married, or choosing to wait to get married. Like it or not, this is happening more often.  There is a culture shift about what that kind of covenantal relationship means. For some, it is a way of not making such a deep commitment without serious thought and time to be sure this is what they want. For others, they don’t have the same need for themselves to make a legal, binding, contractual commitment—they see their relationship commitments differently. We need to understand this cultural shift, because it also applies to whether or not people want to join a church or any other organized way of being in spiritual community.  While I still uphold the tradition of covenantal relationship in the church, I also understand that others do not have the same need for making a commitment in the same way to an organization—they prefer to be in the group when their heart is in it, and to move on when it is no longer living up to what it claimed to be or fulfilling their needs. 

This attitude is not new—how many members are on your roles who never come to church?  Just because we may claim that covenantal relationship is key for true spiritual community doesn’t mean we’ve been particularly good at it ourselves.  We may need to reexamine what we mean by all of this commitment business anyway.

“To be spiritual but not religious is just a cop-out.”

Our saying this publically is not going to get those who feel spiritual but not religious to engage in any kind of conversation with those who claim to be religious. While you might roll your eyes at the “spiritual but not religious” claim, you’re not doing anything to invite those who feel that way into a conversation.  What we might do is ask them what it means to be spiritual for them, and if there are spiritual practices they engage in. Make a few friends who are spiritual but not religious. In my time as a pastor, I have found them to be my very best friends—people who understand my faith but don’t want to be part of organized religion. They are the ones I can confide in, turn to with my own questions and wonderings. And sometimes they see that we on the religious side can be spiritual, too.  And you might just find that SBNR folks do gather together in their own communities, or come together at prayer vigils, book groups, and other such gatherings.

“We welcome everyone who welcomes everyone.”

In other words, we welcome those who think and look like us. Yup. I’ve heard this from so many liberal/progressive leaders over the years who don’t seem to hear what they are saying. There is no discussion, there is no room for dialogue. And I’m not talking about only welcoming people who disagree with me, but also welcoming people who have been abused and wounded by the church. They may not be the most welcoming people. They may not ever feel comfortable setting foot inside a church. In the SBNR discussion, one thing that gets overlooked is just how many people have been hurt by the church in general. So many of my friends who claim SBNR grew up in a church where they were taught to be ashamed of who they were, where they were made to feel guilty for choices they made as a teenager, who experienced the loss of trust of a leader, who were the victim of gossip and lies in the church.  I know one experience where a child’s parents were divorced in the church, and the gossip and backstabbing that happened in the life of the congregation discussing her parent’s divorce has made her adamant to never set foot in such a place again.

So what do we do?

For one, I think we have to stop speaking such assumptions. I think as church leaders, we need to become more involved in the community around us, specifically finding who and where the SBNR folks are around us. Secondly, we have to stop the public judging. Third, we need to simply stop making assumptions about why people don’t go to church, because those assumptions are what drive every single program designed to reach the “unchurched,” every single change that a congregation makes that is not something they would normally do but in hopes that it might bring in younger people who don’t go to church.  Those changes and programs do nothing but burn us out even more in the long run.  Fourth, we have to have vision.  And that vision has to include the very real possibility that church as we know it, church the way we grew up with it, isn’t going to exist in the next generation.

This is not easy. But I think the stripping away of our assumptions is the first step towards moving forward in this new world as the people of God, followers of Jesus, Christians. If church truly is a people, as the old song says, and not the building, the steeple, the resting place, the programs, the worship service, the coffee hour, the youth group, etc., then we must go and be with the people, and we must listen and learn from them. In order to do that, we must let go of our assumptions: about what people are looking for, about why they don’t come to church, and also, the main assumption that we know better than they do. Because if we did know better, we wouldn’t be in this place, would we?

Music and the Journey of the Soul

By Grant Jacobs

As I'm sure is the case with any individual who has felt compelled to write an article or opinion based essay the first statement is the hardest.  I'm often reminded of the scene in “Finding Forrester”, where after sitting down to work Forrester responds to his pupil's question as to how to start writing:

“No thinking—that comes later. You must write your first draft with your heart. You rewrite with your head. The first key to writing is to write, not to think!” 

So too is the case with my attempt to narrow focus for this article down to a single topic, theme, motif, idea, concept, purpose. What on earth can I say that will matter to anyone out there in cyberspace particularly—where the information and opinions available to us are seemingly limitless? 

I'm lucky enough to have a writer friend who often says, "you write what you know" … “Write what you know”… What do I know? … I know music.

“Not just albums” as my writer friend so bluntly puts it.  He says I can talk “music—not records, not artists, not songs—music.  What it means to be a musician.”

So what does it mean to be a musician? (Aside from the constant worry of going broke.) What does it mean to me? What did it mean to Miles Davis or Leonard Bernstein? What does it mean to my former professors from the School of Music at University of Louisville? What does it mean to them? 

These are all questions that deserve answers. 

I'm reminded of the first song I ever heard that I directly related to a girl I loved, specifically the third verse (in Portuguese):

Quero a vida sempre assim,           I want a life like this forever,

Com você perto de mim,                 With you near me,

Até o apagar da velha chama,          Until the final flicker of the old flame,

E eu que era triste,                          And I was sad,

Descrente de sinismo,                     Cynical about cynicism

Ao encontrar você eu conheci,         When I found you, I knew

O que é Felicidade, Meu Amor          What happiness is, my love

Absolutely beautiful.  Antonio Carlos Jobim's Corcovado. I know the version with Stan Getz best.  

Point is, among the most notable memories of my life is this song.

The first concert I ever performed with an orchestra in college we played the Enigma Variations by Sir Edward Elgar, and when we got to the variation movement entitled "Nimrod" (arguably the most well known movement, and for good reason) I cried.  I wasn't alone.

The first time I heard the opening track “Acknowledgement” to John Coltrane's album "A Love Supreme" I was 16, had just checked the album out from the public library, and was frustrated over having gotten into a shouting match with my high school music teacher earlier that day (mostly ignorant The perfect time.  

“Acknowledgement” … Seven minutes and forty-three seconds that will introduce you to God if you let it.  Listen to it loud, alone, with your eyes closed, and keep breathing deep.  

After the first statement of the main motif by the Double Bass, Coltrane launches into solo...attacking the notes with intensity beyond his normal intent.  After blistering through scales and phrases, screaming out through his single reed, the song ends with giving up the fight and simply singing out the phrase “A love Supreme” to the tune of the original bass statement.  

I've heard his sound of this period described as “wanting to fight his way out of the box”—out of the box of tonality, out of the worldly constraints placed on him and his saxophone.

John Coltrane was a prophet: whereas Mohammed used his (inspired) words, Coltrane used his horn.  His sound fought for freedom—freedom from tonality, freedom from constraint, both musically and spiritually. Freedom from organized musical form and freedom from limitations on not only his sound, tone, and notes, but his spirit, his emotion, his purpose, his life, his search for God. “Acknowledgement” is a perfect title for this song because after multiple minutes of struggling, he acknowledges all he can do is sing and pray for “A Love Supreme”.  

This is the reason people say music isn't the same as it used to be when they hear Taylor Swift or Justin Beiber.

For musicians and non-musicians alike, regardless of genre, we can all admit to having been transported to another place emotionally by the music we were lucky enough to listen to at the time.  Not “hear”… “listen to”… there IS a difference.  You “hear” the smooth piano tune in the elevator on your way to the doctor’s office, you “listen” to the song sung at your father’s funeral.  

This emotionality, this recollection of feeling, this sometimes indescribable sensationalism we have all hopefully been involved in in one capacity or another is not entirely unlike the sensations one may feel when reading their religious text, taking the holy communion with a previously unbelieving friend for the first time, praying for the health of the driver whose car just got hit directly in front of you as you swerved out of the way to safety.

These are all spiritual moments.  

“My music is the spiritual expression of what I am—my faith, my knowledge, my being” 

-John Coltrane

In my own search for faith, for knowledge, and being—or for a way off what Dr. Derek Penwell described once as the "treadmill of Samsara"....Musical moments have consistently provided me with a glimpse of what could be waiting for not just myself, but for all of us, as we eventually pass the threshold to what may or may not be on the other side of death, a glimpse of nirvana, heaven.

In growing up in the Episcopal diocese of WV, attending summer camps, youth retreats and other "happenings," my favorite parts of any gathering or service we had were the times we were all singing together.  Smacking the beat on the pews of those sitting in front of us.

In college, I needed to find a way to supplement my income that was also conducive to my crazy schedule of music, education, and core curriculum classes.  I also desired a church home, because though my own faith was going through one test after another, it just felt right.  Going to church had always been part of my life and though I didn't know what I believed anymore specifically, swimming in my own personal pool of agnosticism...I figured I should fake it till I made it, I needed the structure.

Early in my sophomore year I was invited to audition to play bass with my friend, Barrett, at his church. They would pay me a little bit too!  I found a church home in The Catholic Community of Epiphany.  I was making money to play my bass, and I had a church community I could grab onto for support in the coming years.

Over my remaining four years of school my faith would be tested internally. Losing a guy from my orientation class to suicide, losing communication with the girl I loved, hearing of friends being arrested, having multiple relatives pass in short spans of time.

These are things that test faith.  

All the while I was reading Christopher Hitchens and he keeps telling me that there's no God.  That the reason as humans we are so intuitively inclined to need (and in the opinions of some—create) a God is because of some need for a parent figure later in life—derivative I suppose in many ways of the Freudian argument that we all need a mother or father figure, that we all want somewhere inside ourselves for there to be a God because we need it to tell ourselves that there's a reason we do the things we do beyond just helping our fellow human beings.  To tell ourselves that we will be rewarded for our prayers, for our good intentions, like a child receiving candy or a teenager being paid for good grades.

Are we all just creating a God because we’re looking for an “attaboy?”  

So in a single phrase...I was going through some spiritually turbulent times.  Going through hell.   My oldest friend regularly quotes Winston Churchill—“If you’re going through hell, keep going.”

That's what I did.

And this is my point—in all those time of questioning and struggle I kept going....but what kept me going? 

Reliance on the routines and joyful moments involved in the development of my musicianship.  Along with the realization that some of my peers, though self-identified as agnostic or atheist, were the most spiritual people I’d ever known due to their unyielding love for music.  

This is why I decided to pursue music education—to lead young people to these oases of spiritual and sensational moments.  So if they should find themselves in a place where one day they question the existence of God, the existence of purpose, (or validation if you’re Freud or Hitchens), they can rely on the routine of practice, the cold sweats of pre-performance jitters, and the exuberance of applause for their innately human need for sensationalism.  In a single thought—the routines and sensationalism provided by musicianship can supplement those of organized belief when needed.  

Musicianship has continued evolving within the context of the church.  Among the earliest changes in thought to how music was to be presented to “the glory of God” was the publishing in 1581 of Vincenzo Galilei’s (Galileo’s father) a “Dialogue on Ancient and Modern Music.”  In this text, Vincenzo argues against the use counterpoint (multiple moving independent melodic lines which support each other and harmonize).  Instead, he proposes the use of a single melody sung by a single voice, using the natural voice inflection of this singer to express the melody and text of the song.  

But why did he do this?  His argument was that the use of multiple voices in large choirs with multiple moving melodies and texts would essentially “distort” the message that was trying to be given up to God.  He argued instead for a single voice and melody because the message being given to God would not be lost in the confusion of instrumental accompaniments, complex harmonies, and multiple voices all singing with slightly different inflections.  

My point in using this example is this: human beings have always struggled with how musicianship and spirituality can most effectively support each other.  It is my belief that the modern-day church would look nothing like it does without the coinciding development of musicianship and the spirituality of historical musicians.  

We see it today, as mega churches often opt for a “praise band” format over traditional hymns or choral music.  These churches are asking themselves the same question Vincenzo Galilei did—how do we most effectively use our musicianship to support faithful spirituality?  

I’ve been lucky to have performed with a symphony orchestra, jazz combos, punk bands, dance bands, on solo recitals, for Catholics and Unitarians alike, and for parents with students I’ve taught.  All of these experiences have generated in me a host of emotions and feelings, from panic and doubt to unfiltered and limitless joy. The common trait these emotions share with my spiritual journey (we all have one) is that to ride the roller coaster of spiritual and musical emotionality is a fundamental part of being human. 

So I encourage you to embrace your sensational moments, embrace your spirituality (or lack thereof) and question it, and if (when) you find yourself lost in the woods of uncertainty remember you can always embrace music to help you find the road.    

How?