Spirit of Life: You’ve Got to Rock When the Spirit Says Rock
Ponderings of the Spiritual Life Director
I had an experience a few years back at the UUA’s General Assembly in Rhode Island. It was a very lively GA, the spirit of joy seemed to be walking alongside us the entire time. The workshops I attended seemed to be more inspiring and creative and thought-provoking than usual. New ideas were emerging all around me. We were introduced to the Sanctuaries movement from the groups in Boston and Washington DC (I encourage you to look them up and see what they’re all about!). And the music- everywhere we went, from participatory music in workshops to ukuleles being strummed in the hallway by young UUs to an incredible night of dancing with “aliens” (most fun ever!) to the incredibly well-crafted music in the main worship services- the music uplifted us all and connected us to the Spirit of Life
But there was one moment in particular that gave me a huge jolt of energy. In one of the main worship services (where there’s a couple to a few thousand UUs), we were singing hymn #1024 “When the Spirit Says Do”. It’s a civil rights period African American spiritual, and it calls for us to add our own lyrics. You got to do when the spirit says do! You got to sing when the spirit says sing! You got to dance when the spirit says dance! And then, they added “rock”. You got to rock when the spirit says rock! At this one moment in time, I felt a sense of connection that I didn’t even know for which I had been longing! You see, I like rock music and actually, I have this propensity towards some pretty heavy, kind of weird, stuff. Shocking, I know, nobody ever expects it from me anymore. True nonetheless. Now, don’t get me wrong, I like all kinds of music from Debussy to jazz to Elvis to 80s pop and I even sing in the Broadway Chorus. Variety is key to my musical endeavors. But the heavy stuff is often what I turn to when my soul needs some…soothing, restoration, energizing… You don’t have to get it, it’s ok (although, if you yourself are a metalhead, feel free to come hang out in my office and we can have some tea and talk about it over some Black Sabbath, Pantera, or my personal favorites, Jane’s Addiction and the Melvins).
Here’s my point- when they put the word “rock” in that song, I finally felt acknowledged and affirmed. I mean, I like singing hymns, but come on, there’s just so much more that can inspire us out there! The problem is, church traditions hold us close to the hymnals.
I’m not proposing we ditch the hymnals, by any means. They are rich with inspiring music and history that connects us as a community. And many of us love so many of those hymns. But, we need to make room and acknowledge and affirm the wide variety of what can inspire us, connect us, fill us up with a sense of joy and make us come alive with the Spirit of Life. Then, we can find the energy to do the good work of love and compassion in this world.
So, I want to know, how would you fill in the blank?: You’ve got to________ when the spirit says ________!