One middle age housewife told me at our seminar on "embodied prayer, contemporary culture and beauty," that she is "regularly shocked by what she finds on her son's IPOD - really sweet melodies with songs of spiritual depth and longing." Another 50-something pastor said, "Every time I hear the old Byrds song, "Turn, Turn, Turn," I find myself prayerfully thinking back on the day or the week or the month." A few said that they even intentionally prayed with music: "I use the old African American gospel song "Over My Head'... Martina McBride's 'Anyway" works for me...same with Joe Jackson or Stevie Wonder, the Eels, the Beatles, John Prine, REM and U2."
And when the gathering was done - and some of us debriefed - two important insights had been revealed. First, despite the crusty old demeanor of some New Englanders who swear that they haven't tried anything new since the time of Lincoln, more and more are showing me that this doesn't apply to their interior lives. To nurture the soul in ways that are rich, nuanced, informed and lovingly shaped by popular culture my new friends speak of movies and music, TV and the Internet as forums where real prayer takes place.
I was particularly moved when I asked the group how their bodies felt after encountering the Eels' "Things the Grandchildren Should Know" and the guitar lament of "While My Guitar Gently Weeps." One 70+ woman said that "she felt her heart breaking with God over the state of the world." Another younger woman was clear that "one song drew me inside reflectively while the other drew things out of me emotionally." Most importantly, with a little encouragement and guidance everyone let their bodies pray along with their hearts and minds.
And second, while many of our old Puritan churches have not understood how to bring popular culture into their historic sanctuaries, the people in the pews have already crossed the so-called sacred/secular bridge. In fact, many people said that some of our old forms of worship are not only calcified and funereal, they are also shrinking the spiritual landscape for people of all ages who are hungry and searching for insight and meaning in their lives. The two teens told their dad, "I paid attention in church for the first time in... like I don't know when."
So, we rocked on - talked about it, shared jazz, folk, gospel songs as well as prayers and questions - and then gathered around the communion table -young and old/ gay and straight/ male and female/ white and black and asian - and had a real celebration in the presence of Jesus, Kool and the Gang, Annie Lennox, the Wailin' Jennys,Eric Clapton and U2.(Dig this old, old tune that is still so much fun...)