Devotion: You Don't Have to Be Lutheran
The following devotion was shared by Tony Spain, a member of the National Lutheran Choir's tenor section, prior to one of the last rehearsals of the 2013-14 season. Tony describes his personal journey to find God and shares how the NLC is his "church."
This past weekend, I was down at Gustavus for an event and I was talking to someone who is planning to audition for NLC. He told me, “I was raised Lutheran, but I currently find myself in an unknown place when it comes to religion.” I told him that being Lutheran is not a requirement to sing in the choir. We have our tall handsome Catholics, and bright haired Presbyterians, and people who feel closer to God in a drum circle than in a pew. Then strangely, in a small bar in St. Peter, Minnesota, I found these words coming out of my mouth – describing my own faith journey and the integral part the National Lutheran Choir has played in that.
I never had a great relationship with God. Admittedly, I still have trouble ascribing to the belief or practice of a “personal relationship” with God. I learned about God as a kid – all the stories from the Old Testament, the meanings behind Christmas and Easter, floods and rainbows, burning bushes and parted seas, walking on water, resurrection, commandments, sin. I learned about prayer as if it was some customer service line for life, but I always felt like I was stuck on hold. “Please God, help my step-dad not be an alcoholic and get so mad all the time. Help my mom not be so sad. Help them find money so they don’t have to fight about the checkbook all the time. Help me not be so much of a 'sissy.' Make the kids at school stop picking on me and calling my horrible names. Make me straight. Make me good at sports.” At the time, I never felt like God answered those prayers. As I got older, I started to think that God was probably just too busy doing important things, like running the universe. Eventually my path took my into foster care and into the home of a family who’s version of Christianity brought me more pain than comfort.
I like to consider myself a pretty intelligent person. As I grew into a young adult and looked back on my life and everything I’d learned about God, I knew the God myth for what it was. Humans are uncomfortable with the idea of death, and therefore make up all these stories to make it easier to die. Over time, humans co-opted the myth to manipulate people into doing things for good behavior, and convinced them they would burn for all eternity if they didn’t comply. It made sense. And I was too smart to fall for it.
At some point, I began to research and practice witchcraft. What started as a mere rebellion, and probably a cry for attention, ended up transforming my views on divinity. God the Father was never a figure I could really connect with. I don’t need to spend $150 and an hour on a couch to find out why. Women have always been pillars of strength and comfort in my life, and I had an opportunity to explore divine femininity. At its heart, I learned that paganism is about seeing divinity in the beauty of everyday life: in trees and wind and fire and earth and rain. It was about honoring the spirit of that beauty and allowing it to touch your heart.
Lutheran Pastor Nadia Bolz Weber, author of the book Pastrix, describes her times with paganism as “hanging out with God’s aunt.” Like her, I didn’t leave the evils of witchcraft behind me after some shocking “come to Jesus” moment. Rather, the experience informed my views on God.
And here it is. Even thinking myself so clever to have evinced the “God myth,” I could never fully let go of my belief in divinity. There was always something that called me. Beauty.
“Hanging out with God’s aunt” helped me discover the beauty that has nothing to do with humans: the miracles of nature and its impossible glory. I found God in trees and little bugs. I found God in thunderstorms and rainbows. And, I found God in music.
Choir people know what I mean. I found God in the goosebumps I would get when all of the sudden we sing that chord. I found God in the elation of a well-earned release of a compelling suspension. And I found God in the relationships I formed with the people I sing with. It might sound hokey, but honestly, I learned how to feel my soul inside of my body.
This is what I told that hopeful young bass: NLC is my church. You people are my congregation. My voice is my offering, and these songs are my liturgy. It is through music that I have come to know God and through music I continue to interact with God.
I’ll be honest. I’m not really one to pray. But as I stand before you today, I have a home that keeps me warm, a job that provides me with more than I need, a partner who every day teaches me the wonders of love, and great friends who fill my life with laughter. My parents are better too. So perhaps, my experience with prayer is more of a lesson in patience than anything else.
Please pray with me:
For the beauty of the earth,
for the glory of the skies,
for the love which from our birth
over and around us lies;
For the joy of ear and eye,
for the heart and mind's delight,
for the mystic harmony,
linking sense to sound and sight;
Lord of all, to thee we raise
this our hymn of grateful praise. Amen.