Over the years, I have gleaned a selection of Frequently Asked Questions as I visit congregations in the States. These are often insightful and very appropriate questions. One that seems to cause me the longest pause before answering is, “What do you find that you miss the most about America?”
This year, in an attempt to be prepared, I have given the matter more thought than usual, and the answer is worship in English, especially music. Now, I must first confess that I am a ‘closet orthodox/high church’ person (except for the incense). The music of pipe-organs, of Bach or Mozart or contemporary masses with organ, orchestra and choirs (vocal and bell) — now I’m in worship! Give me the hymns that tell the story, no matter how long the verses, how complex the music. I rejoice in the procession of the cross, the reading of the Gospel from the middle of the congregation, the kneeling at confession (though my knees are old enough and have been bent long enough to ache when I stand).
Now, I am not down-playing many of the current, alternative styles of worship. In fact, my point is that our styles of worship are often cultural and speak to our hearts. Some find worship in praise songs, others in singing ‘old-time-favorites.’ All are valid and appropriate ways of worshipping. What I am saying is just as we have ‘Heart Language,’ so we also have ‘Heart Music’ — music that communicates to our hearts the Gospel just as much as the words of the sermon or the reading of the Scriptures. For me, the strains of a Mozart Requiem can bring the sorrow of the Law into my heart, as well as the joy of the Gospel, far better than any sermon I have ever preached or heard.
So, what is the point I am making? Well, there are two or three points. First, Jo Ann and I find that we miss the music and worship in English and are so thankful when we can sit back in the sinners’ pew and let the Spirit work through the Heart Music (and so Heart Worship) so meaningful, then what about our brothers and sisters in Africa, Asia, and South America? They, too, have their Heart Music and Heart Worship. If dancing and singing to drums does not lift me up in worship, then should Mozart or Bach bring tears to their eyes? I was once playing a CD of organ hymns while driving a group of fellow pastors to a workshop in Tanzania. My ‘heart’ was singing along with the music. Suddenly, one of the pastors asked me to change the music to theirs, because they couldn’t understand the music I was playing. (Music is loved in all countries, but music is not a universal language).
So, as we consider translating the Scriptures into the Heart Languages of all people so that they can understand, let us remember also to help them develop hymnody in their Heart Language, so that they, too, can lift their Hearts in worship to God.
Rev. Michael and Jo Ann Megahan are currently on furlough from their translation ministry with the Kalanga people of Botswana. They will return to the field in late June, 2012.