My friend gave me an interesting article last night. The article's author argues that in American churches, we often expect everyone to be happy. There isn't a lot of room for sorrow and brokenness--for the open expression of loss and pain.
I'm not talking about bad attitudes. Habitual complaining is very different from true tragedy and heartbreak. Sometimes people in great sorrow find that their churches don't have channels to allow them to express their pain. They can't find the comfort that community and worship are supposed to offer them.
It's not easy to create a safe community for those who mourn. I've seen churches do it, however.
Worship is another matter. The problem is that different people release their grief through very different kinds of worship. I tend to prefer the African-American style of joyful music that still acknowledges the pain in life. Tradtionally, African-American worship services have been times of affirmation of hope and joy for people who need a lifeline to get through hard times. That sounds good to me! The "happy" songs of gospel music are statements of courage. One of the most moving musical moments of my life was singing "The Battle Belongs to the Lord" with a thousand other people on the Sunday after the terrible events of 9/11.
In a different vein, there are spiritual sorrow songs such as "Were You There," "Sometimes I Feel Like a Motherless Child" and "Steal Away." These are slower, more stately opportunities for emotional expression: musical release for pure pain.
In the Euro-American tradition, we have plenty of joyful songs, but not as many "joy through pain" songs. In recent years, though, some real gems in this vein have appeared: "Blessed Be Your Name," "Days of Elijah," and others that mingle pain with affirmation.
As contemporary music begins to replace old standards, however, we are losing some of the traditional songs of sorrow that we once had in our churches. Pure lament and sadness just aren't in fashion, so contemporary composers don't often write songs like that. The only contemporary one that comes to mind right now is "Above All."
I made a list of some traditional sorrow songs. Can anyone think of others, traditional or contemporary?
Abide With Me
When My Love to Christ Grows Weak
O Sacred Head Now Wounded
How Deep the Father's Love for Us
What a Friend We Have in Jesus
It is Well with My Soul
Night, with Ebon Pinion
Does Jesus Care?