The Rev. Casey dunsworth

serves as Associate Campus Pastor to the Belfry, the Lutheran-Episcopal Campus Ministry to UC Davis

and as Program Director for LEVN, the Lutheran Episcopal Volunteer Network.

Last night's common ground devotion :)

So, for Lent, I gave up singing in worship. I know, I know, it sounds crazy, especially for those of you who know that singing is my fave activ. I sang other things, don’t worry, just not worship songs.

I was inspired to do this because I never really felt like the things I did for Lent were really noticeable sacrifices. And I wanted to see how the lack of song would affect my worship life. And how it would affect my faith life on the whole. My hypothesis was that I was going to fail miserably and give up like, halfway through Ash Wednesday common ground. Ash Wednesday common ground was the easy one. I was so sure, after Ash Wednesday, that it was going to be easy, after all. No big deal. It was the second one that was killer. And the third. And the fourth. And Cass thought something was wrong, because I hadn’t told him what I was doing, but he noticed I wasn’t singing. I guess I just can’t resist a good experiment.

You know the song “Heart of Worship?” That song comes from a similar experiment. It was written by a worship leader who wanted to test himself and his congregation. To do this, he eliminated all music from Sunday worship for an entire year. A YEAR! Seriously. Can you even imagine? I’m sure it made for speedy worship services, but, man. And after a year, the first song he played was that one. When the music fades, all is stripped away and I simply come, longing just to bring something that’s of worth – that will bless your heart. I’ll bring you more than a song, for a song in itself is not what you have required.

There are actually a lot of worship songs that touch on the subject of it being about more than the song. I find that this is because it IS about so much more than the song. Though of course I am positive that if God had a mouth God would smile to hear you sing. And if God had lungs, it would take God’s breath away to listen to the harmonies that float through this room. But what I’ve found is that it is not about focusing on the breathtaking voice of the person sitting next to you. It is about focusing on who gave it to him. And it is about feeling blessed for how you feel when you hear him sing. And when I worship here with all of you, in the words of Casting Crowns: empty hands held high – such small sacrifice – if not joined with my life, I sing in vain tonight.

And so while it might please those that hear you if your voice is beautiful, that should not be your goal. Your goal should go beyond the notes and the lyrics so heartwrenchingly penned what our hearts can never hope to fully express. It should be about why the songs have been written. It should be about the glory of the Lord. It should not be about how you love to sing; it should be about how you love to love your God.

During my worship song-free Lent experience, I, of course, happened upon all sorts of beautiful new worship music. God loves her irony, sometimes. The magic of shuffle on iTunes brought me to the latest Switchfoot album, Hello Hurricane, which I had never really gotten in to. Apparently, Jon Foreman’s goal here was to express the importance of song and of singing in his worship life. What a coincidence. In the song “Sing it Out,” he cries, “Where is my song? I’ve lost the song of my soul tonight. Sing it out, take what’s left of me and make it a melody.” And in the other obvious choice, “Your Love is a Song,” he sings, “Your love is a symphony all around me, running through me. Your love is a melody, underneath me, running to me.” In another song, “Yet,” he sings, “You haven’t lost me yet – I’ll sing until my heart caves in.”

Jon’s words brought me to the conclusion that singing in worship will never stop being my fave activ, but I have found that it is crucial to my worship life in a different way than I thought. There were many moments at common ground or chapel or just my everyday life where they only thing I could think of was some beautiful chorus of some song of praise. The force with which I had to keep myself from singing was almost physically painful. I’d have to take out my iPod and quickly play some other song to get it out of my head. And I found that I took so much more joy in singing secular music. I found myself singing stupid nothing on the radio with much more fervor than usual. It was like there was this innate need to express myself through song that I just wasn’t releasing, since I wasn’t singing in worship.

I like to think that I pour my heart out through my voice into the lyrics and the harmonies that proclaim my love for my God. But it is not about hearing my voice. It is about hearing the voice of the body of Christ, together, reveling in each other and in the immense, inexpressible and insatiable feelings of joy we experience when we lift our voices in praise of our God.

I think this changed my life.

And usually I would end a devotion with something about doing what you do in the name of Christ. Or loving your neighbor. Or any of those catchphrase sound byte things that I am always spouting. But tonight, I can’t help but say not to go on doing what you usually do, but to go out and do what you don’t usually do. I’m not trying to get any of you to stop singing. Ever. My life flows on in endless song, and I guess that I encourage you to allow your life to flow on in endless song as well.

Please join me in prayer by joining hands with those around you.

God of Song,
Thank you for the resurrection of your Son. That is certainly something to sing about. We are so happy to be here with you tonight, happy that our season of reflection has brought forth fruitful thinking and new views on life. We’ve had wonderful spring breaks, and are now back to the grind. Help us focus – this is the home stretch. We have work to do. But for right now, we put all that aside and simply sing until our hearts cave in.

Happy Tax Day!

Christ is risen! He is risen indeed.