Headbanging and spiritual connection
Published at June 14, 2022±15 minute read3474 wordsTags: reflection
I was Christian for most of my life.
Different from most Christians I know, that only happen to be inside a church in babies baptisms, which are cute, or marriages, which are boring, I was a full church-every-Sunday goer, with extra Thursday nights and some Saturdays, depending on the month. More than that, I was not only into church, I was a church musician.
I'd be there, before every worship day, practicing the songs we'd play. Then, during service, we — me (keyboards), dad (electric guitar), my brother (drums), sometimes a very close friend (bass), and the preacher's daughters (vocals) — would steer the public's emotions with our playing.
Alas, the fateful day finally arrived. I was finally touched by the light of doubt and gladly un-found Jesus, getting free from the shackles of dogma and liturgy. Me and God Junior are not close friends anymore, but I don't dislike him. We're... acquaintances. I'd help to fix his computer, for sure, but I wouldn't lend him money. A colleague, at most.
Amongst trauma and fear, the church did provide me with a lot of good things. For instance, I'm still working hard to find a place with such a sense of community, unity, and communion that's not wrapped in religious thinking.
This is a strong word, communion, keep it in your mind.
The church is meant to give you this feeling that you are part of a whole — be it the body of Christ or a part of the group, the Christians. The former is nice to be in, feeling like you are meant to be there and not just to be, but to act, like an important finger, a functioning organ, a relevant stretch of skin.
Of course, there are the obvious appendixes, those that are part of without any good reason, or the small pieces of tumors that mess things up more than help, but those are also eligible for god's love, right?
For instance: specifically in my case, as an evangelical Christian from Brazil (those who know, will know), being converted gave you a free pass into any church and its workings. Let us say I got to this new church and, when the service ended, someone came to say hello to me (sometimes they do this out of the blue) and ask me who I am, where I'm from, simple (kinda intrusive) questions. If I said I was already Christian, looking for a new community or visiting from another, probably I'd get a smile and an "oh fellow soldier of Christ, you should come to our [insert theme] special worship on Thursday".
if I said I was not Christian, they would be more careful, and cautious, as I'd be flagging myself as a potential new convertee. I met Christians that saw this as some kind of quota, a target to reach before going to heaven, like if there was some special prize for those who converted more (please, god, if you exist, let there be no prize, just for fun).
So, there was community.
Communion, on the other hand, means something else, and that was also something that the church had in abundance. And even though I'm being (a little too much) sarcastic about Christianity, this is a very serious part. Communion is awesome.
Being at a place knowing you profess the same (or close enough) faith as everyone in that room gives an unparallel feeling of safety. We are together, feeling whatever we're meant to feel, without fear or shame of what goes on our minds at that time. Listening to the preacher say his words, praying together in a high voice, or, especially, during musical worship.
That's what I want to talk about: I fucking miss musical worship.
I did not like being in the church band. I even hated it in some parts of my life. But, seeing those churchgoers smile when I played this specific chord at the start of a song, hearing them sing in unison, and the claps at the end — not for us, but for the whole idea of god being there with us — was moving. It made me feel not like an appendix, but a liver, a kidney, a high-traffic artery. I was an integral part of the body of Christ, doing my best to participate in communion.
After worship, compliments and praises were rejected. "No, I didn't play that well today, It's all for god. No, you shouldn't thank me for praise, but god". I need to take this to therapy urgently, I might've found a source for some trauma, here.
Being this close to communion, not only as a participant but as a supplyer, made me... hooked on it. I never stopped being part of the church that way. As soon as I got to other kinds of churches, large or small, I and my brother would soon be siphoned into The Work. Not only regular church work — I've been a kids' teacher, a musician, a preacher for teenagers even — but any kind of work.
I configured an electronic projection system, typed every song we had into a computer, and set up the software in order for everyone to see the lyrics and sing along during worship. I helped set up and tear down weekend camps (something my mother loved to do), cleaned the church building after some special service, and more than once played a part in church theatrical performances.
In plays, I've been Jesus, Satan, a Samaritan, and other parts I can't remember anymore. Communion was part of my life and I donated myself to it. I had a personal life, of course, but the church was always a place of respite and refuge. I met my first girlfriend (and the second) at church — and we were a full Christian couple, celibate and all.
I was — for 13 years — a frequent participant in summer and winter 1-week camps, something not at all Brazilian culture.
I've been to two concerts since I came to Germany. Both of them were niche bands, important for a small group of people because of their exquisite characteristics. At the venues, while the bands performed their works of art, the public stood up and chanted the lyrics, accompanying the singer with their voices and the instruments with their gestures. At the chorus, people made fists or signs with their hands and pointed them at the stage. Some of them had their flat palms up, singing the words with their eyes closed, almost like this was... worship.
Like in church, the fans were moved by the music and felt connected to what was being sung, sharing for a moment the experience of being together with fellow worshippers — I mean, fans.
The first of these concerts was by Ghost, a band that's known for their catholic satire and songs that look like hard-rock worship music but, well, for the devil.
One of my favorite music videos from them is a faithful version of Christian recruitment material.
We're hiding here inside a dream,
and all our doubts are now destroyed
The guidance of the morning stars
will lead the way into the void
He is the shining and the light without whom I cannot see
And he is,
insurrection, he is spite, he's the force that made me be
He is, Nostro dis pater, nostr' alma mater
He Is - Ghost
As the whole concert had a spiritual theme, it was hard for me to notice how close that was to actual church worship. The closeness to the actual thing got my judgment clouded, so I didn't understand very well what I'm trying to describe here.
Also, it's hard to have the proper critical judgment in a concert where zombie Pope comes out of a coffin and does a saxophone solo, right?
A month after Ghost's concert, I went to Prague to watch another favorite band: Tool.
And there, yes, I could feel it and can say out loud: concerts are Worship, with capital W.
I, as an ex-Christian, can say with confidence that the Holy Ghost was there with us. Maybe not the "Holy" you believe in, nor the kind of "Ghost" you are thinking of. But definitely, some kind of energy was moving us all, worshippers, fans, and public.
I'm not even focusing only on rock and metal bands. I'm sure that a Beyonce or Rihanna concert is Worship as well. Maybe worship of the people they are — strong women with money and respected opinions — or the ideas they share with their songs — freedom, power, independence.
Get enough LGBTQIA+ friends and you'll understand Lady Gaga is some sort of goddess, yes. That's definitely Worship.
My experiences, being in these two recent concerts, showed me how much I missed church worship and how concerts could supply me with this energy I was missing. Seeing a stadium stand up and sing, with full voice, the chorus of Tool's Pneuma, was... well, I could say indescribable but these are hundreds of words describing it, right?
Reach out and beyond
Wake up, remember
We are born of one breath, one word
We are all one spark, eyes full of wonder
Pneuma - Tool
That's a fucking worship song, man. C'mon.
Slipknot calls their fans maggots, which I always thought stupid, until now. Understanding this relationship between gospel and secular music, how the concert ambiance is a replacement of sorts for my lack of religious worship moment, makes me put the pieces together and get the whole point of the maggots thing. I don't mind being a maggot, as long as I'm in a crowd of maggots, singing the hymn of our rebellion, the words of our emancipation of the traditional, the celebration of our worship.
We fight 'til no one can fight us
We live and no one can stop us
We pull when we're pushed too far
And the advantage is the bottom line is
We never had to fight in the first place
We only had to spit back at their face
We won't walk alone any longer
What doesn't kill us, only makes us stronger
Pulse of the Maggots - Slipknot
My whole point in this way lengthier article than I planned is that concerts ARE worship and they are even a way for me to reconnect with god — whatever you want to call it.
A Christian artist I still like very much, João Alexandre, used to sing some non-christian songs in his concerts. He'd sing Gilberto Gil or Caetano Veloso and tell people: "if this isn't praise, I don't know what is". He'd sing Moraes & Jobim's Garota de Ipanema in a weird (but efficient) and say: "look the beauty of God's creation".
Even if the Christian god is not there, there's a Holy Ghost floating through every mass of headbangers, the horn-sign-wielding mass of long-haired dudes, and leather-clad dudettes. The Holy Ghost also cheers when the bass drops, and also fills our spirit with joy when the solo comes. It makes the makeup stay on, gives energy to the dancers, and turns sweat into smiles.
The crowd singing together that special part of the song that helped them go through a bad patch in life, even if in completely different circumstances, then bursting into tears after shouting the words out loud...
Well, if this is not praise, I don't know what is.