Music an important part of creating a sacred space for worship

danielgriswold@gmail.comMay 21, 2013 

Soul blues ILLUS

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My dad, Larry, is an awesome guy. He was a great provider for our family. He's wise, a hard worker, and he always let my brother and I "help" him with things around our home. I'll never forget moving logs while he cut them with his ax.

I've inherited many traits from him, including the habit of writing in all capitals (he was a drafting major early in college). One thing I know I got from him is my taste in music. He had many records, but it was his CD collection that caught my attention in middle school. I was first exposed to Roy Orbison, America, The Moody Blues, James Taylor, Fleetwood Mac and, in the Christian music sphere, Keith Green. Listening to those albums are in my memory as sacred journeys full of meaning as I tried to understand my place and life in general. My mom is also a prolific writer and musician. I've always felt wrapped in the warm clothing of music from birth.

Later, in college, I wrote a paper on music, itself, being sacred space. A practice I'd learned living in a mobile home with four siblings in tight quarters was closing my eyes while listening, and, in effect, journeying into the music and seeing the words in my imagination. This quote by Beldon C. Lane from the book "Sacred Landscapes" gripped me:

"Sacred place is not at all necessarily pastoral and rural in character -- something to be sharply distinguished from fabricated spaces of an urban landscape. It is, after all, a function of the religious imagination, not a quality inherent in the locale as such. That is why Americans fascinated by the power of new machines in the late 19th century could speak with religious fervor of standing in the presence of a huge electrical generator ... The sacred space, in short, takes root in that which may form the substance of our daily lives, but is transformed by the imagination to that which is awe-inspiring."

Most churches include some sort of musical entryway into the realm of the sacred. In the tradition of the temple priests, bands now play with guitars and drums rather than harps and flutes, but there remains a journey that one takes as we remember God amidst the paradox of movement while stationary, created by our distinct sounds. Perhaps a well-built, tuned organ with an excellent organist brings your heart to a new place beyond the walls.

Music is a space that can transform any warehouse into a temple. The necessary requirements are the human beings seeking God. Music is just one of many landscapes where we can find God's footsteps.

If there are people seeking out there in a language that the church does not use, or living in a space that the church does not like, should the church learn that language or enter that space?

I believe so, and in the freedom of the American church, I can envision more churches sprouting up in YMCAs, store fronts and fields of grass, as people begin to recognize that the place of worship is irrelevant when the body of Christ comes together and welcomes the "other," wherever they may be, and in whatever music style they experience life.

The church is more than its walls, and more than even the music, because none of these things would exist if it were not for the people who mold them or the God that made them.

It is us who need to move into the new spaces in order for real ministry to begin.

Columnist Daniel Griswold is the director of youth at St. Andrew By-the-Sea United Methodist Church. Follow him at Read his blog at

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