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User Name Thread Name Subject Posted
Turtle Can you sing 'Gospel' without Belief? (108* d) RE: Can you sing 'Gospel' without Belief? 20 Jun 01

Wow, this thread is just fascinating. I haven't sung much gospel, but I do sing sacred harp/shape note music, which also comes from a living Christian tradition. I don't consider myself a Christian any more, and among the folks who come to our singings there are Christians, Buddhists, Quakers, Jews, pagans, and probably other folks like me, who have a strong spiritual life but don't belong to any organized/named religion. I had a long talk with one of the tenors once about this (he's Jewish), and we both agreed that there is some kind of spiritual power to the music that keeps us coming back. It's not just about the beauty of the music, and it's not just about singing with a group of forty other folks who love it too. Neither of us is Christian, but both of us feel spiritually moved by the music.

I can't speak for the other folks at the singing, but I know that when I am singing the Christian words of those songs, they somehow morph in my mind. I think perhaps what I gain strength from, or what I pour intention into, is the spiritual meaning behind them.

Gosh, that sounds clear as mud. But here's an example: I might sing, "Savior, visit thy plantation--grant us, Lord, a gracious rain. All will come to desolation unless thou return again. Lord revive us, O revive us, all our help must come from thee." Those words are Christian, but when I'm singing them what I'm feeling/thinking/believing/singing is my belief that my life is dry without a spiritual connection, and that only by turning my heart and mind toward that connection in prayer/song/meditation/action will I be revived. The song is one way of praying/meditating on that and for that. I think my singing the song for that purpose is pretty close to the intention of the folks who wrote it and the culture it came from, even though for me it's not about Jesus and I'm not Christian. The songs have a spiritual power that is not bounded by their coming from a Christian tradition. I think this is related to what Hesperis (I think) was saying about spirituality being universal.

So is it the same with Gospel?

bbc, I want to respond to something you said, and I hope I will do so respectfully, because I want to engage in a conversation & not offend you. Let me apologize in advance if I hit a nerve by accident. You said, "I hope that I have never pushed my beliefs on anyone, but, friends, when you sing gospel in my presence, I am praying (with no judgement in my heart) that you will come to know the joy, the peace, & the strength that come from my faith," and then later in another post, "What makes me sad is my perception that people are singing about something as if they have it when they don't... I am sad that my friends don't have the higher quality of life I perceive that I have through my beliefs."

Isn't there an implied judgment in there that only if my beliefs are like yours can I have that kind of joy, peace and strength? And, conversely, isn't it possible that when I'm singing shape note (or gospel), I'm singing about something that I do have, something that's similar to what you have (i.e. a spiritual grounding to my life) but that looks different (i.e. is not Christian)? Do you really believe that there is only one way? I don't mean this as a slur, at all--I'm really curious, because it seems so clear to me in my life and the people I know that there are many ways to come to that kind of joy, peace, and strength. I have known people who radiated it who were Christian, but also others from all kinds of other spiritual backgrounds. Is your experience different?


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