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2 Worship, Pure and Simple

  • Worship
  • by Rhonda Hanson
  • 03-28-2019
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When it comes to worship, not everyone agrees with my opinions.  The older I become, the more I'm good with that. 

Unintentionally, I began leading worship at a small country church when I was eight years old.  (If you've visited the bio section of my website, that will make more sense.)  I have to really concentrate, most days, to conjure up those eight-year-old girlhood memories, but I can still manage.  In fact, I can still smell the little church, with its strange blend of old wood, musty hymnals and Pompeian Olive Oil, where I dutifully pounded away on the ancient black Gulbransen upright that was stage-right, house-left and shoved up against the wall.  I perched there, too short to reach the peddles, and cranked out song after song, singing at the tops of my lungs, eyes closed, glasses sliding down my nose, while half the meager congregation stood around in a cluster, doing their best to keep up.  It was the sort of thing that would make a music lover gasp in horror. 

I can't say that much of what we belted out at the old Olla Church of God would pass for worship.  It was more or less what Sister McHaney referred to as sangin' and there was no official end to it.  We would start with gusto and then just fizzle out.  Sangin' is hard work. 

I'm tempted to linger here and not move on the the subject at hand:  worship.  I want to tarry, because I like closing my eyes and seeing Sister McHaney and her daughter, Brazzie, standing at attention behind the big, boxy pulpit like two vacant characters from a Grant Wood painting, as they churned out "I'll take Jesus first of all; He will answer when I call" with grim determination.  It makes me smile to remember Sister Babcock mounting the platform before they had even finished, in order to bless us with the same song she sang every week:  "Mold me and shape me, make me what I outta be....".  This lineup of music was different from the "worship" service.  These were the specials, or spayshuls, according to Sister McHaney.  I never stopped to think about it at the time, but it occurs to me now that I never actually played the piano for the spayshuls.  No, for whatever reason, these were a cappella.  This portion of the service also had no definitive end.  If the Spirit so moved, one after another would amble up to the front with his or her contribution and so it would go.  On and on, with no regard for the clock on the wall (if there had been an actual clock on the wall).  The songs were random in nature, and included everything from stern admonitions to "get the dust off the Bible and redeem your poor soul" and wistful reflections that "If I knew of a land...I would sell all I have and move today",  to the hopeful "I see a bridge; a way to cross the river of life" and the plaintive declaration of Hank Williams:  "I'd rather be....in a deep dark grave.......!" 

Then it was my mother's turn.  Recalling my mother stepping up to the pulpit wiMy mother, clasping her hymnbook.th an open hymnbook clasped to her chest finally steers me to my original thought; worship.

My mother held onto a hymnbook as if it were a life-preserver.  She was known for it, so much so that following her death, she was painted with her beloved hymnbook.  The ironic thing is that she never actually looked at it.  She would simply open it (to what page will forever be a mystery) then close her eyes and begin to sing.  As she sang, she seemed to leave us all sitting there, and go somewhere else.  She began to sing, not about God but to God... and He listened to her.  Even as a young child, I was aware that I felt as if I were eavesdropping on a private conversation.  Still, I was unable to do anything else.

My mother's songs all followed a simple theme of being consecrated to God.  Her repertoire wasn't extensive. It was easy enough, if given a choice of 5 or 6 songs, to guess what she would sing.  But whenever she quietly slipped up to stand behind the old pulpit, with its glossy varnish and stash of offering plates, tithing envelopes and Sunday school books hidden within its vast  interior and with the aforementioned bottle of Pompeian Olive Oil placed to the left of the book rest, she would hesitate for a few seconds, lift the open but unnecessary hymnbook up to her heart and begin her simple but powerful song to her God, "I'll lift my cross and follow...... close..... to Thee......".  "I'd rather have Jesus than anything, this world affords..... today....." "No, never alone....He promised never to leave me; never to leave me alone...."

My mother was worshiping.  There was no musical accompaniment, no contemporary arrangement, no mood lighting, no attempt to generate a response.  She assumed no responsibility to convince the rest of us to want to worship along with her, just as she needed no worship leader to coerce her into "entering in" to worship.  She, herself, was God's worshiper. She carried her worship to her God inside her earthen vessel.  It was as simple as that.  When her song was done, she stood a moment, as if she were also listening to God, then closed the hymnbook and returned to her seat as silently as she'd left it.  But the presence of God was felt in her wake in a way I've not often experienced in my lifetime.

I didn't realize it at the time, but something was birthed inside me, during those early years in that small, simple church that I have come to recognize as a yearning to "be God's worshiper" and to carry my worship inside my vessel. 

I recently heard someone I very much like and respect say something that I simply don't agree with.  He remarked that the purpose of the worship leader is to bring the congregation to a place of entering in to worship.  I understand his point; I just don't accept it.  We are either God's worshipers or we are not.  Our emotions should not have to be stirred, our lethargy coaxed into a response, our mood changed in order to give God the worship He deserves. 

Someday, I'll sharpen my virtual pencil and go down that road a bit further but for now, I'll say no more.  The purpose of this writing was not to criticize or instruct.  I was just thinking out loud.

And remembering.

2 Comments

  • Paul McKenzie

    04-16-2019 6:19 am

    What a great example of a mother teaching her daughter all about worship by action! You were blessed with a wonderful mom!
  • Rhonda Hanson

    04-16-2019 6:50 am

    I'm reminded of all the wonderful things I've heard you say about your own mother and Julie's mother, over the years.
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