I used to play spiritual songs, write my own melodic poems, and play out my emotions upon its strings. I never really considered myself a musician. I didn’t have any formal training or musical education. I learned how to play looking a chord sheets and covering other peoples songs. Sure day dreams of being in a band danced in my head, but my heart was never set on those dreams. I was a just a guitar player, and I most often played my strings at church.
Yes, I was a worship leader. Even with my cynical nature towards all things Christian culture, I was still the one to make a play set, go to Thursday night practice, and then get up there on Sunday mornings and try to help people worship God. I made the power point. I said the prayers between songs, set up the scripture readings, played softly during the invitation to communion. I found new songs to add to our catalog and reworked old song arraignments. I set up the stage before service and tore it down afterwards. I sang the songs and tried to get the congregation to sing with me.
About seven years ago, after three years of leading worship every week, I resigned from worship leading. I was burnt out, tired, and wounded. I was disheartened at church in general. I began to lean into my anger and my hurt. I became so disillusioned and bitter at church as I knew it, so righteously angry and fed up with the way church was, so disgusted with it all. I just knew I would never get back up in front of a congregation and sing worship songs again. I was done, out, moved beyond that form of church. With my black and blue heart, I stopped singing. It wasn’t just praise and worship songs, it was all songs, even the words that I penned and poured my breath into. I stopped singing all together. My throat became silent and my guitar became still. I stopped playing poetry and singing scripture.
In the Land of my Sojourn
This bitterness towards the church, her words, her culture, and her music led me far out into the wild hills of faith. In the spiritual wilderness I spent my years wandering about, searching for a promised land. But wandering in search of a dream only leads you deeper into the sand and the hills. God never left me as I journeyed on. At every turn, in every breath of wind and storm of the soul, in my bitterness and hurt, Jesus was there. He was quiet. He was present. Sometimes he spoke up, but it was always still, small, and easily lost in my own turmoil.
Songs had always been a spiritual compass for me, a way for me to hear the voice of Jesus. On the radio, in church, or from my own strings, I said my prayers a heard the truth of faith in songs. When I stopped singing, I stopped hearing Jesus. Instead, I heard my hurt, my anger, my ache for a spiritual community. What I heard in this wild land was longing, but I couldn’t place my finger on what I was longing for.
So I kept walking. One foot in front of the other, day after day. I walked far away from church as I knew it. No more quiet times. No more bible studies. No more worship music. All that was left was the walking. One foot in front of the other, leading me to God knows where.
God knew where. It was in this wilderness and in this wild place that I learned to long again for all those songs. Even as I wandered away from church forms and traditions, I longed to find a home among the people of God. After a while, the adventure of feral Christianity wears thin, and one begins to crave the voice of the Master in the ways you used to hear him. After a while, I began to hunger for a home for my faith.
It wasn’t that I went back to the old places, the places that I sang my songs. Rather, a community of local believers here in my city came to get me, to bring me to the congregation, to invite me to sing again. Suddenly, I find myself in a church again. Suddenly, I am no longer a nomad in faith. Suddenly, I find myself still in the wild but building a home with old foundations.
I sat in the church service that first Sunday three weeks ago and I heard the songs I used to lead people in singing. I heard the prayers of my heart echoed back to me in a call to worship the divine once again. There was a nostalgia, like visiting the home of my childhood. This was where I came from, what I walked away from, yet it was different. A different people, a new community that met me in my wilderness and embraced me there.
I Will Sing Again
I began to play my guitar again. I dug up old church songs and began to fumble at the chords again. I found my old stash of songs I had written, and I began to hear Jesus in them again. See, this community I am claiming as my own needs a worship leader, and I feel called to go before the congregation and sing again. This is a weird feeling, an odd place to find myself. Once again I am in church, in a form of Sunday mornings that I thought I had outgrown, or at least run away from forever. Even though I am here, I am not back where I was. I may be thinking about standing in the same place on stage that I used to stand and remembering the songs I used to ask people to sing with me, but I am not going back to the same place I used to call home. There is something else going on here. Like finding a new tribe of people who remind you of your old group of friends yet remain fully new in their identities.
Maybe this doesn’t make sense to anyone else. Maybe it does. All I know is that I am singing again. I sing on my walks home from work. I sing as I play my guitar and my son runs about. I sing as I shower and putter about the apartment. And I sing at church, with my congregation. Singing again feel right. There are songs in my bones, verses in my blood and rhythms in my hands. Singing my theology is finding my way to believe again, reorienting my heart toward spiritual north. I still find myself in the wilds of faith, a feral Christian who draws from many traditions and even makes his own. But even the wild savage has a home, and I believe I have again found a church home, a place to sing my songs.