It's been almost two months since I went on this walking pilgrimage, but today a certain facet of it is standing out to me in big relief: praise music.
Music has always been a very big deal to me, and I lived through 80s charismatic praise music (at least in the tail end of that decade), and because I became a Catholic in the early 90s, I also got to experience some of the 60s/70s praise music. (Some of you will realize what I mean.) I experienced genuine healing through very good worship leaders in various stages of my life.
But I also experienced this:
When we stick with any format simply because it is what we know, there is the danger of having no idea at all why we are doing it or even what we are doing.All of a sudden, our experience is empty.
When I was on that walking pilgrimage, I discovered a truth about praising God. Simply put, the time to praise God is when complaining comes more naturally. The moment to praise God is when we are feeling the cross we carry get heavier. That is the time to look at your brothers and sisters and point them towards God's mercy and goodness, and simply proclaim that He is worthy of our lives, our praise, our cross-carrying. That is the moment to proclaim my choice to serve God who is all good and worthy of my love.
Praise expands that love in my own heart. Praise edifies those who hear. Praise lifts us up from the difficulties we are all simultaneously acknowledging, but looking beyond. Praise is not denial of our human experience (like my friends who would not "confess" they had a cold, but simply that cold symptoms were manifesting). Praise is instead acknowledging the greater truth of God and His kingdom.
Praise is the way to embrace the cross.
To embrace the cross in community requires everyone being in tune with and on the level about the crosses they face.
And frankly I think that is why praise music is such an empty fail in many communal settings. We don't typically have any impetus gathering us this way, and we all try to hide our sufferings from ourselves and from one another.
The joy exhibited in this communal praise is, however, I believe, precisely the joy Pope Francis continually calls Christians to exhibit.
This is from the English group in 2009, not this year, but it gives a sense of what I mean. Note this is not about musical quality!