Every summer when I was a kid I was given the amazing freedom to walk down Elm Road to the neighborhood pool about a mile away. There I spent most of my summer days practicing my dives, playing 500 with Dave the ice cream man, and frolicking barefoot with my friends.
There was an utterly beautiful simplicity to those summer days, when I could do almost anything I wanted. It was an amazing gift, except for one summer day when I was about ten, when I missed an important send-off celebration at my house. Periodically throughout my childhood, our family hosted high school-aged international students. The gathering I missed was for our Egyptian student, Hani, who had just graduated. I don’t remember when I figured out that I missed the party, but I was heartbroken that I would not be present to celebrate with family and friends. To this day, I believe I may have been forgotten in the haste of the party planning. Truthfully, as a young kid, I was probably too wrapped up in my own summer day agenda to notice what was going on around me.
In my twenty plus years of playing music for a living, I have played every kind of venue from speakeasy club to living room to dive bar to theatre to church and last night, I gathered with about fifty folks in a small barn in the middle of a field in Canton, GA. They came not because they had any idea who I was, but because their friends who were hosting invited them into this beautiful story of a night. There was a distant sunset, hands being held, pockets of laughter, a small bonfire, crickets singing in the background, people in lawn chairs sharing tasty food and wine, and the end of a spring day whose oppressive heat finally shed its weight for a cool evening that required a jacket for many. It was a night probably much like the one I missed in my youth, except now I’m an adult with a guitar and a djembe and the privilege of taking two hours to journey through songs and stories, in hopes that at the end of the night this collection of strangers might end up as friends collectively leaning into a shared experience. It was a night of celebrating and coming together to be still. Although I never mentioned the name of Jesus once, I know that he was present, as my prayer was that he would speak to all who gathered in the midst of this beautiful evening.
That is my hope and prayer on Sunday mornings as well as every time I have the opportunity to sing in front of people—that Jesus would speak through the words I sing and that He would meet us in the spaces we gather, both physically and spiritually. There is great power when we come together, and as my producer friend Roy Salmond writes, “We cannot gather alone…we need others to gather with.” It is not only biblical; it’s human nature. It’s how we are wired and why we are created the way we are:
To be known, to feel safe To be honest and unafraid To leave the past, run into hope To find together we are not alone I need you, you need me This is why we gather To remember why we matter
And yet much of the daily world that surrounds us pushes back on this elemental truth that we need one another. Our handheld technology boasts its unifying spirit and connectivity, but I often feel it driving us apart, pedaling fear and isolation, stirring anxiety and palpable restlessness. We have always been a forgetful people, especially when it comes to remembering who is in control and whose we are, and our devices are only fostering further belief of what we are not, what we don’t have, and stripping away the little room we leave open for God to work on our behalf. We are told we are the master of our own stories, posting the details we want people to see, the amazing life of the beloved we live, with calculated steps, knowing that whatever happens only happens because we brought it forth into happening.
At a church I was guest leading this past winter, I was dumbstruck by stepping into a culture for 24 hours that might be more commonplace than I imagined; an entire worship team individually huddled like silos over their phones during every still moment in between making music together and leading the congregation in worship. There was little conversation, no diving into the depths of our stories, what the Lord was teaching us, nor even dialogue about the sermon that particular morning. And as I sat quietly amidst the strangers, unsure of how to engage and respond, it occurred to me that something might need to change.
To share our story, silence the noise To hear the wisdom in the tremble of a voice To carry healing for all the scars To know we’re more than our broken hearts
Sandra is one of the more senior members in the small neighborhood church I lead worship with and I will never forget her reading of scripture during Advent: she was so overcome by the power of the Word that she broke down in tears. After pausing for several moments, we collectively watched her wrestle with and embrace the unbelievable beauty of the Gospel story, taking in the tender reading of the truth of a living Savior coming into this world as a baby, seen through the eyes and wisdom of a woman in her late 60s, fully acknowledging his healing power in her life. At that moment the room was still, probably much like that night in the stable when Jesus was born.
When we help each other fight the fear Be present with one another We’ll find that’s where the life of God is lived
In Exodus 14, just before the Lord parts the Red Sea through Moses, he tells the Israelites, “Do not be afraid. Stand firm and you will see the deliverance the Lord will bring you today…I will fight for you, you need only to be still.” In that tense moment, God’s people had forgotten where they were. They had forgotten how they got there. And they had forgotten whose they were. Lost in their short-sighted desert existence, Moses called them back into the bigger story that God was writing for them, through a simple call—to be still. In those days, stillness definitely looked different than it does now, but much like those who have gone before us, silence is still silence and stillness, stillness.
I wrote the song, “Gather,” as a rallying cry and a reminder that we are not alone, even though we may feel like we are in our modern world. It’s a song that celebrates this deep communion not only with one another but with our living Creator. He yearns for us to be at rest in him so we can have space to receive his love, grace, and mercy. I know he longs for me not to fill my still moments with busy useless knowledge in a silo void of connection, all while stories unfold around me. Be it a stoplight, waiting in line at a store, at the airport awaiting takeoff—so many empty moments where I know he is saying, “Pick up your head, my beloved, and see what is happening around you and what I have for you to witness. I will fight for you…you need only to be still.” When you mourn the death of your earthly father; when you celebrate the marriage of two people; when your only son learns how to ride a bike for the first time; when your community is splintering and you feel alone; when you pray musically on Sunday morning; when you sit around a fire with your bride and laugh together; when you watch the news and can’t process what you’re watching; he is present and he is calling out to you.
To give courage, to hear it now We are beloved This is holy ground
In Mark 6, Jesus walks out on the water to his disciples and states, “Take courage! It is I. Do not be afraid.” He offers a holy courage to them as he steps in the boat in the middle of the wind and waves. He is reminding them who he is at that moment and they are reminded whose they are. I firmly believe Jesus offers us the same courage in every moment of our days and that he also calls us as a body to offer that courage to those he places in our path. He’s got enough courage to go around and when we come together face to face and create those holy moments of stillness, we too will know whose we are and that we truly matter in the Kingdom of God.
I need you, you need me This is why we gather To remember why we matter
First published in WORSHIP LEADER MAGAZINE SUMMER 2018, copyright (c) 2018.