Tuesday, August 18, 2015

The Nightmare of Modern Praise


Yesterday, I learned about Miserere Mei, Deus. It was first written in the 1630s by Gregorio Allegri for performance in the Sistine Chapel, and its composition sheets were kept secret. When Mozart was 14, he heard the piece twice and was able to transcribe it from memory. Apparently, the song stuck in my head too.

I had a dream last night; my parents and I were visiting a church. It had a wide nave with white walls and green, theatre seating. I took a seat and could hear Mozart playing, but then the bass guitar started warming up right behind me. Imagine the Seinfeild riff playing over Miserere Mei, Deus. I turned to the guitar in bewilderment. I started to sing Mozart’s Kyrie over his noise. Defeated, I got up to find a different seat. Only, there were speakers all along the wall, so my mom and I couldn’t find a quiet corner; we would have to endure the noise. My dad had found a seat in the middle, which was further from the speakers but right in the middle of the people. The people were nice, friendly, but seemed to have no sense of being at church. They spoke of jumping up to sing and dance and didn’t understand my reservations. Finally, I snapped, turning to the people behind me. “There is no beauty in that music! There is no soul!” I was literally thumping my Bible on the back of the theatre seats. “I want beautiful music! I want to dress up for church! We’re in the presence of the Eucharist—!” At this point, I looked up toward the altar for the first time. It was on a slight stage, as white as the rest of the walls. There were no candles, no flowers, no statues. And I could not figure out where the tabernacle was. There was no love for the Eucharist here, no real worship. There was nothing that indicated this was a Catholic church other the name on the sign outside. Defeated, I knew I could not worship there; I had to get out before the service began. 

I don’t hide my distain for modern/contemporary praise music and settings, but I do keep it toned down. Some people sincerely respond to rock band music, industrial architecture, and jeans-only dress code. I don’t want to be critical of their spiritual experience. And yet. It seems so shallow, so bland, so empty. Jesus is a buddy, church is a community center, worship is a concert. There is nothing reaching out beyond this world. There is no reverence. There is nothing to jolt you out of yourself, pull you to Heaven or notice God crashing into you here on earth. Is God pleased to see his children sing “Yes, you’re my God” [x12]? Probably. But worship can be so much more.  Hillsong and Dan Schutte have nothing on chant and Gregorio Allegri. I don’t want church to be hip and relatable. I want it to be timeless and authentic. I want it to be more real than I know reality to be. It all makes me want to thump my Bible and loudly sing Mozart’s Kyrie.

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