Hear my prayer?

A friend of mine introduced me to Amos Lee when she burned me his one and only CD. It has been my favorite soundtrack for easing my anxiety in the midst of subway congestion (as every moment has its own unique soundtrack). But, of course, this soundtrack on my iPod is nothing compared to hearing this young man croon from the stage of a packed concert hall. Lee has this intensely humble presence on the stage, which may be simply because of his newness in this business. In this humble man, I was most touched by his sincere and deep love for the music. You could hear it in his voice with each note he sang. You could see it when he turned away from the audience to relish in the sound like a teenager in a garage band. You could feel his intense love and passion for this music. And dare I say, it was contagious.

It was contagious without all of the bells and whistles. Lee’s melodies did not need all of the flashing lights. What is it with flashing lights at concerts? In fact, why do some churches recreate this sort of experience in worship? What in the world does it say about our God or the people of God? Do we need all of this flashy nonsense to discover who we are in God’s image? That just seems silly. I think the same is true for Lee. He only needed one spotlight – one simple spotlight – that would wander from Lee to the other dynamic members of his band. When one’s sound is that contagious, you don’t need more than a spotlight.

And yet, packed in with all of these other people, it seems that it was not enough. We have this tendency to need to create things bigger and better. But, I found myself sharing Lee’s frustration in this hullabaloo. With every frustrated glance he gave to the eager teenagers singing along, I found myself wanting nothing more than to dive deeper into the music. I wanted to swim into the sound that his band created. I wanted to be immersed in whatever this weird energy was. It’s not the toe-tapping kind of music that makes one want to dance. But, nor was it music that you want to roll down the windows of the car to sing along with on a hot summer day. Instead, it’s the kind of sound that transports you to another place. And yet, I have no idea what that place was.

Wherever this place may be, it is most definitely a place of protest. It is a place of dissent. Maybe it will be a place like Qum’ran, where people gather out of frustration with what is or was to create something that will be. This would be a place where the set list would be followed, as requests need not be made with the gentle and humble leadership of the cantor. And Amos Lee would be just that cantor. He would sing about our frustration and anger. He would call out injustices. He would name them with the words that we failed to find in ordinary speech. He would sing them as he did in his second to last song,

Anybody out there?
Hear my prayer?

With these words, Lee invited us to pray – just as a cantor leads the people to reach toward God. While my parallels to Qum’ran may tarnish the authenticity of this moment, I was truly moved by the power of this call to prayer. I wanted there to be more. I didn’t want this mantra-like chant to end. I was truly caught in the power of prayer. But, as with most secular settings, moments of prayer get lost just as easily as intelligent lyrics about how Jesus would not pay taxes or support the troops fade into the beautiful harmonies.

As a future minister who even today struggles to teach children songs that might sing their faith, I am left with the question of how do we continue this spirit? Without the silly lights and glitz of the stage, how do we capture that powerful action of song in a way that transports us to an idealized place like our own Qum’ran? Couldn’t the church be just like that?

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