There are some Christian praise songs that leave me feeling a bit uncomfortable because, not to put too fine a point on it, they sort of sound like a pack of lies. When I was in college, maybe a decade or so ago–though I’m actively trying to rationalize a way to state differently that so it doesn’t so far away–there was a song with this lyric: “We lift our holy hands up/ we want to touch you.” I used to get physically annoyed when that part came. I’d shut up, stop singing, purse my lips like your very disappointed substitute teacher. Not just because of the “holy hands” part, though my hands were far from holy. Nor from the creepy feeling that “we want to touch you” seemed to give me. It was the part about lifting our hands. I always looked around the chapel at that point, tried to count the number of holy hands that were raised in song. Not many. So basically we were just lying to God. In melody form.
There are a number of songs like this, that advertise how we’re dancing or standing or lifting our hands or clapping our hands or waving our hands for Jesus. Maybe I am too much of a literalist. After all, I don’t necessarily shake when listening to Taylor Swift. Not always, at least.
My dad has this thing about being told what to do in church services. He doesn’t like it. He’s a grouch like that, but I totally get it. If the guy leading the singing says, “Everybody stand with me,” my dad will just sit there. Because he is awesome like that, and because he is an Enneagram 8– The Challenger– and he likes to challenge authority, even if the authority is only a skinny kid with a guitar on a tiny stage. (It was rough on my dad for a few years, being this grumpy, but now I feel like he’s finally hit his stride– he’s old enough where it is endearing in a Walter Matthau sort of a way. It works for him.) He says that Jesus told us to pray in secret, not out loud in front of a bunch of church people. That philosophy extends, for him, to dancing and clapping and all that. I’m pretty sure my dad dances in secret, but don’t tell him I said that.
I don’t necessarily hate being told when to stand or sit during a service, probably in part because my dad has given me permission to worship whatever way feels right and true. I never feel pressure that the skinny kid or Jesus or really anyone is disappointed in my choice to stand or sit or close my eyes.
I do sometimes wish there was a little more Pentecostal in me, though. Have you ever visited a really participatory church service? I went with my friend to her church in Kansas City a few times. Risen Lamb. The congregation was mostly African American, and their style of worship was so fun. They sang “hallelujah” and “amen” just whenever the mood struck–even during announcements, like when someone mentioned there was going to be an all-church BBQ and people should sign up to bring potato salad. They danced. They waved their hands around. They were very noisy. By contrast, I have never felt quite so stiff, and I actively tried to mentally convince myself to “get my groove back,” so to speak.
It was like the time when my friend Nick invited me to homecoming. He was the best dancer in the whole school. I will always remember how he break-danced on stage to a Beastie Boys medley in the talent show. Anyway, I probably should have thought about that before saying yes. The entire night, I danced really, really poorly and really, really self-consciously, as I always do. And he danced, as he always danced, like someone who could have been on Soul Train. It was a little awkward. And that is how I felt at Risen Lamb, even though nobody was trying to make me feel that way.
Anyway, this week, during service, we sang another song with lyrics that made me uncomfortable: “Lift my hands and spin around/ See the light that I have found/ Oh the Marvelous Light!/ The Marvelous Light!” But this time, my Grinchy heart grew three sizes or so, because my three-year-old was in front of me doing just that. Hands lifted, denim dress spinning, chubby little legs peeking out. She does this every week, in fact, during whatever song we are singing, sometimes during the prayer or the Scripture reading, when it is totally inappropriate and somewhat distracting, she is dancing. Usually, she has flung off her shoes by this point, but my favorite is when she is wearing the beat up red and black cowboy boots that are flaking from the amount of love and wear they’ve received.
At first I wondered if I should let her do this. Would it bother other church members? I was silly to worry, though, as no fewer than, well, everybody at church, has sidled up to me at some point or another to tell me how charmed they are by watching Evie. It is as if she has injected a fresh sense of wonder into all of us.
She is unconcerned about how she looks or what other people will think. She is dancing because she likes how it feels to spin, because that is what the music or the Lord or maybe just her boredom compels her to do. She is free. O Marvelous Light.