Having been raised in a Southern Baptist family, I’m no stranger to the rhythmic chord progressions of the piano and organ weaving together and creating that nostalgic, “church” sound. Hallelujahs and amens echo through the woodwork of the building, spilling into the outer halls and escaping from the steeple. With voices raised, each member of the congregation sings to the best of his or her ability, making their own “joyful noise unto the Lord.”
As I’ve aged though, I’ve witnessed a gradual departure from the traditional praise and worship of my childhood. Nowadays, especially in my church, we take part in a more contemporary, almost mainstream worship service. Drawing from modern-day pop and rock genres, our music is the evolved product of a new generation. The Strings of a fully-assembled orchestra rise and fall into the resounding, steady tones of the Brass and Woodwind sections, and together, they resuscitate those venerable hymns of yesteryear, restoring them to their former power and glory.
This, I was sure, was the epitome of music, the epitome of praise. Nothing could convey the raw emotion of those songs better than a room full of singing Christian believers, backed by an impressive set of instruments, right?
Actually, no…I was proven wrong.
You see, near the front of our auditorium is a seating area reserved for the hearing impaired. From there, they are able to easily view an interpreter who signs the sermon to them. The interpreter is usually very animated, and naturally, the quiet setting of a Sunday morning preaching makes it almost impossible for me to not occasionally focus on him or her. But recently, I noticed that the interpreter signs throughout our song service as well. Every word of every hymn is expressed through the flowing motion of the interpreter's hands and, even more incredible, expressed through each of the deaf people in the pews.
I watched, literally, speechless as they moved so, so gracefully through the motions of Amazing Grace My Chains are Gone. The words of the hymns coming alive in and through their bodies.
Palms flat, hands raised high, and fingers wavering, I watched a younger woman close her eyes and slowly lower her arms pulling them in close to her chest. She repeated that motion, matching each repetition of the words, “Unending love, amazing grace.”
Despite the glittering orchestra playing on stage and the great choir of voices filling the place, her sign language was the loudest and most beautiful praise I’d ever witnessed. I felt ashamed. How could I harbor some selfish buried resentment for the things I didn't have when this woman lacks so much and yet holds nothing back?
Fighting back tears, I thought to myself: “THAT is worship.”
I was inspired and humbled and challenged all at once to be like that woman, to not focus on what I don’t have, but to love and praise God with everything I do have, all of me.