Faith Seeking Understanding #001: Singing praise to the Lord

Faith seeking understanding, my personal journey towards a deeper knowledge of and intimacy with God, the cosmos, humanity and myself through thoughts, words and (occasionally) images, is a series of [hopefully] daily reflections I’m writing with the purpose of publishing something on a regular basis for others to read, either here, at joncarllewis.com or among my writings at Medium.com.

Michael W. Smith singing “Friends” at the funeral of George HW Bush on 05 December 2018. Screencap from CBS.

Faith Seeking Understanding, Day 2. Or is this day 1 since yesterday was basically an introduction? No matter. All day I’ve been hearing in my mind Michael W. Smith singing his song “Friends” which he performed at the funeral of George HW Bush several days ago. It was an interesting choice of music for an Episcopal service, and it made me wonder how many people out there like me love both the Anglican liturgy and the music of Michael W. Smith.

 My religious and spiritual journey has taken me many places—and I have loved aspects of each of them, but now I consider myself a contemplative Christian. I worship at an Episcopal church which considers itself Anglo Catholic: it’s bulletins boast: “Catholic Worship As Expressed in the Classical Anglican Tradition.” It’s not the mainstream of the Episcopal Church, but it isn’t exactly fringe, either. The liturgy is right out of the Book of Common Prayer and the Rite I Eucharist is the primary service celebrated, along with Morning Prayer and the occasional Evensong.

I love singing the music at this church. It comes primarily from the long and somewhat varied English musical tradition, mixing plainchant with loud, showy anthems and modern settings of the liturgy with traditional hymns. The music fits my voice part and timbre (I’m a classical tenor, formerly a countertenor) and I have come to see the discipline of singing sacred music with other committed musicians to be a significant spiritual practice.

Yet I still love the music of Michael W. Smith, which pretty much defines the mainstream of the Contemporary Christian music scene—and has for decades. I discovered Christian Contemporary music as a teenager, listening to the local Christian music radio station whose call letters I cannot remember. But I remember Michael W. Smith… and I remember Amy Grant.

Amy Grant—if not my first Contemporary Christian love—has been my most abiding. Hers was my first rock concert (the Angels tour) and itwas she whose sultry voice guided me through tears and laughter through her songs.

Amy Grant accompanied me on another journey, also, with her move to mainstream music just as I, myself, was coming out as gay. In her ostracism by some in the Evangelical church for her “Selling out” and for her status as a divorcée, I felt my own ostracism and took comfort in the fact that, at heart, she was a person who had deeply loved Jesus for a long, long time, just as I was. And, like Amy Grant, I continued to thrive in the “secular” world without ever, really leaving behind my love for praising Jesus through music.

You see, as a college student, I spent a significant amount of the free time I didn’t have writing Christian contemporary songs. I wrote dozens of them. Some were performed, never to be heard again, and most of them existed only for a few, short years in the piano room overlooking the Gothic dining hall of Rockefeller College, Princeton University. I was not alone in my creative urgings for Christ: at least two other boys in the Princeton Evangelical Fellowship were interested in singing our praises to the Lord in a contemporary idiom. One of them, a friend and eventual roommate, was a devoté of Keith Green. The other, whom I would have liked to know better, crafted a beautiful, simple song for a woman he loved which I hope he has gotten to share more widely than our small circle.

I had dreams, then, of singing praises to the Lord as a career. I didn’t know how to make that happen or in what direction to turn. I don’t even know if I was any good—or would have become so. But when I came out as gay and left the Evangelical world behind, I figured I had left Christian Contemporary music behind for good.

Thanks be to YouTube, however, I am able to reconnect with Amy Grant and Michael W. Smith… and even Keith Green, though he has been dead for decades. I am able to connect with my mind and my heart and my soul and—when I sing along—even with my strength. For I was born to praise God. Whether through early music or Baroque or “modern” music or contemporary Christian or just, simple hymns or Black Gospel tunes, I realize that Jesus is with me. God is with me. And I have a great cloud of witnesses around me who—despite what other people may think—are determined and grateful to sing their praise.

Thank you for your time and attention.
I’d love to know your thoughts on what you’ve read.
Please comment, below, or email me at joncarllewis@gmail.com.
May God richly bless you on your journey.

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Faith Seeking Understanding #001: Singing praise to the Lord

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