If I had to make a list of things that white Southern Baptists are not famous for, perhaps the top two would be dancing and demonstrative worship. So, when the choir director of a local Baptist church hired me to choreograph his group’s musical production, I tried to approach the project with sensitivity to a broad spectrum of convictions, comfort zones, and coordination. And, believe me, we’re talking ocean widths here, not just rivers. For one thing, the singers ranged in age from junior high kids to senior citizens. Some of these people were raised to believe dancing is sinful. Others consider it one of their chief delights. None of them had ever done it in church.
At one point in a song, I asked them to raise their hands heavenward–a common practice among more charismatic congregations, but not always interpreted the same way. Does this action symbolize surrender? Is it an explosive response to emotional joy? I imagine it means different things at different times and to different people, but I wanted to give them a picture–something to hold in their minds that would remove self-consciousness and free them to pour their hearts into what otherwise might feel foreign to their view of worship.
I tend to think in metaphor a lot of the time. It helps relieve the excruciating ache beauty produces in my soul. And it gives me a picture of truth. My favorite metaphor for lifting hands in worship is a small child who wants his father to pick him up. He reaches. The greater the longing, the more intense the reach. He’s up on his toes, stretching as far as he can, focused on his father’s face, willing himself into those strong arms that protect, comfort, support, and provide a whole new perspective of the world.
I shared this idea with the choir one evening, and we moved on with rehearsal.
The production was amazing. It was powerful, beautiful, and deeply moving. Afterward as everyone mingled in the sanctuary, one of the men in the choir approached me. “I want to tell you what happened. The night you explained to us how to view lifting our hands, our little boy–he’s two years and nine months old–came into our room in the middle of the night. He didn’t see us, so he left and started down the hall. I got up and followed him, and when he turned and saw me, he lifted his hands to be held. I thought of what you said, and I instantly had to sweep him into my arms.”
I smiled, happy to have given this man a fresh perspective on how tender his Father’s love is for him. But that wasn’t all. About ten minutes later he returned with the child in his arms. One look at his innocent little face and I knew he was a Down Syndrome child.
“This is our boy,” the man said, beaming. “He doesn’t talk yet, but he’s as precious as he can be. I wanted you to meet him.”
I wish I could put into words the sweetness of that moment, watching this man cradle his beloved child. I thought I’d given him a gift, but it came back to me tenfold. As much as his love overflowed for his little boy, it’s nothing compared to God’s love for us. And yet we stumble around in the dark, searching for Him and not seeing Him, when He’s there all the time.
Next time I’ll remember. All I need do is turn and lift my hands, and He’ll sweep me into His arms again.