Yesterday morning's church service revolved heavily around music. I may not understand Spanish, but music is a language I can definitely speak. Last year when I came on this trip I had the privilege of leading a few worship songs in the service. Needless to say, it was truly a blessing to perform and share my heart with such a beautiful group of people.
During the time that I wasn't performing last year, I sat back and observed the congregation during the rest of the Spanish songs. I was excited to see how Christian mass was run here in El Salvador, as I grew up with the unwavering traditions of Catholic practice, which can admittedly make worship rather monotonous. And what I experienced that day was something that completely blew my mind. I'm not sure what I was expecting, exactly. But I can tell you how I reacted.
I looked around to see people passionately dancing and clapping along to the music. You'd figure, "Oh how nice for them to help keep the beat!" But that wasn't the case here. I saw people clapping on the up beat instead of the down beat. People were clapping on 1 and 3 instead of 2 and 4. Some people weren't even clapping on beat at all. Such things make no difference to just any person, but after a lifetime of meticulously studying music theory, I couldn't let this go unnoticed. I felt a cringe make its way onto my face in response to what I perceived as a cacophony.
But amidst the loudness of the guitars and drums and disorganized claps, I heard God's voice. "Do not judge my children," He said. "There is nothing wrong with the way they have chosen to worship me."
This made me think about my own culture, and how I was bred within it. We as Americans are so hung up on two very dangerous concepts: conformity to expectation, and never making mistakes. This is especially true for someone in the performing arts like me. As a performer, perfection is crucial to my existence. And although true perfection is never really obtainable, my entire life spent trying to nail down my songs, dance pieces, and writing pieces has taught me that mistakes will haunt you forever. So you can imagine how hard it was for me to see the church not conform to each other's claps while also not clapping "correctly".
But I realized something so beautiful about it: everyone was doing their own thing because they are all their own people. They have their own lives to live. Their own journeys to take. Their own feelings to feel. Their own songs that God wrote for them, and their own ways of expressing those songs.
In that moment, I let go of my rigid opinions of how music should be embraced. The El Salvadorian church was praising God and having an absolute blast doing it. Who was I to criticize?
Fast forward one year. Yesterday when I entered mass, I expected nothing more than the same disorganized beat-keeping that had me so baffled a year ago. And surely enough, that's what I got. But this time I couldn't cringe. This time I couldn't reject it. This time I could embrace it. Because this time I appreciated it. And I challenge you to do the same.
Put your hands in the air, and clap to the beat of the song that God wrote for YOU.