When the Secular Becomes Sacred
From a recent article in Relevant Magazine on how the music of Mumford & Sons* (among others) can produce unexpected moments of worship:
It sometimes seems as though the notion of “Christian” music has become so pigeon-holed and cookie cutter, there isn’t much room left for worship music outside of what seeps its way through the church walls. Songs that doubt are conveniently left out of the worship canon, songs that question or confuse, songs that speak about God in a way we don’t always hear: these songs get sidelined. I’m not necessarily suggesting we begin throwing Brand New and Mumford & Sons into our quotidian worship experience; however, it’s interesting to take a look at how these songs can express such authentic feelings of spirituality.
Though this is something I think I’ve always been aware of—at least at a subconscious level—I first consciously felt a moment like this at the Lewis & Clarke show I went to a few months ago. It was free concert held in a bonus room at a small church in Kutztown, PA on a cold, rainy night in late March. An arrangement of acoustic instruments—guitars, a grand piano, violins, cellos—scattered the dimly lit stage in front of maybe the twenty people who showed up. The entire performance was nothing short of spiritual. I don’t know how else to describe it. The friends I went with were all in agreement, it was a moving experience. When I listen to Lewis & Clarke now, I’m taken back to that night and the worshipful aura we all felt comes back.
I often wonder whether music (or art, literature, film, poetry) can be spiritual even if that wasn’t the creator’s intention. I’ve come to conclusion that all art, regardless of the creator’s intent, can affect the viewer in a spiritual way because the creative process doesn’t end with the artist. The viewer (or listener, reader) brings in their own stories to each piece of art creating a new dimension to the work. Also, if you believe in a creative being creating the world, by involving yourself in your own creation is, in itself, a worshipful, spiritual act.
Like the Relevant article, I think art that is rooted in truth will undoubtedly bring about moments of worship and feelings of spirituality regardless of whether it’s “Christian” or not**:
So, at the end of it all, this is not to say that what we sing in church, or what we come across in the hymnals, isn’t powerful, praising or identifiable. It’s simply that worship music doesn’t end when the standard four-song medley ends. It’s everywhere—it’s interposed in moments of “secular” songs by “secular” bands. It’s written on the walls of bar bathrooms and shouted amongst audiences by people who may not even realize what they’re quoting—but that’s the thing. It connects with people in a vastly authentic way because it reaches a genuinely sincere feeling in the human soul. We need our God, and sometimes we try to exist without Him. And all these songs, whether written or not, are about just that.
*Mumford & Sons’ latest album Sign No More has been in heavy rotation for a few weeks now. Such a beautiful album that I can’t recommend enough.
**I don’t like using “Christian” as an adjective to describe art as in “Christian music” but for the sake of responding to Relevant’s article, I’ll continuing their verbiage. Perhaps another time I’ll write about the problems with separating and dividing music and art into Christian and secular.