My encounters with praise music on Saturday were a decidedly mixed bag.
Inside the prison for a monthly reunion, I had my first-ever encounter with a couple of Christian rap songs, chosen around the theme of ‘Testification.’
It did not go well.
The fact that it was my ‘first-ever’ encounter provides at least one clue as to ‘why’. Rap is not my thing, so from the outset I was not inclined to tune in. And then challenges with our portable sound system made it all-but-impossible to decipher lyrics. So the two songs – Crowder’s “Lift Your Weary Head Sinner” and Shai Linne’s “Testify” – came across to me mostly as (unwelcome) noise. (A subsequent YouTube search proves the songs are not entirely without merit. The intrepid among you may want to check out video links below.)
Fast forward a few hours, and I found myself in the pews at my parish church – for the Lenten ‘Jesus Is’ concert, graciously performed by Carrie Bajzath, Dennis Keller and several of their music ministry friends from around the region. As they played and sang through their soul-stirring set-list (“God is Able,” “It is Well,” “What a Beautiful Name”, among others), I felt like I’d come home.
But it was the ‘between song’ interludes that actually brought the day’s musical encounters into clearest focus for me. At one point, Carrie mentioned her (and my) dear departed friend and spiritual mentor, Fr. Jim Krings – fondly remembered for, among many other things, encouraging us to ‘have a mountaintop experience’ with Christ.
At another point, Dennis tossed out this little nugget: ‘We claim Christ crucified. We claim Christ glorified.’
And that’s when it hit me: This is ‘transfiguration’ Sunday. Early on in Lent every year, we hear the story at Mass…and are invited to wrestle with its mind-bending truth.
On some level, I suppose, it’s not hard for us to envision the three apostles’ glorious encounter on the mountaintop – because we worship Jesus as Lord. And so we’d naturally want anyone we worship to be above us somehow. Glorified.
But that’s only half the story. And like indecipherable rap lyrics heard inside a penitentiary, we don’t always welcome the second half of the story: Christ crucified.
It’s almost too much for our minds, our hearts, our spirits to bear – that God might stoop so low, in order to draw us near. Draw me near.
But when I put the truths together, I notice something odd stirring in my spirit.
Broken person that I am, I’m now more open to the invitation: ‘Lift Your Weary Head Sinner.’
And who knows? I might even find it in my heart to begin to ‘Testify.’
Let us pause now…to recall that we are in the presence of the Holy & Merciful One.