Thursday, November 13, 2008

Public Devotion

On November 1st I attended a Christian worship/song-and-dance performance with around 14,000 other people at Toronto's large domed stadium.

A non-church-going but somewhat-Christian (and also somewhat New-Age) friend accompanied me. Thank goodness for her. I found the experience overwhelming on several levels, but my friend was there at my side like a life preserver. She's a teddy bear. When I felt like it was all getting too much I'd lean up against her comforting arm which was wrapped inside a comforting fuzzy sweater, and she'd look over at me and giggle in her lovely way.

To start with, I am not a lover of crowds. There are many events which I outright avoid simply because of the crowds.

I assure you, this place was CROWDED.

Our seats were on the field, right in the middle. The tickets had mostly been sold in blocks, one block to each church, so people were sitting with members of their congregations. The whole point of the concert was to bring together Christians from all over Toronto and the surrounding area, so there were people from all denominations and all backgrounds. The show of solidarity was good to see.

One consequence of the seating arrangement was that differences in church cultures and congregations were easy to spot. My friend and I were seated in row 16, with four more rows dedicated to my church behind us. Starting from row 15 was another church, with a completely different character. The average age of my church is, I'm guessing, at least 50. The average age of the church in front of us was less than 30.

My friend and I were seated directly behind a posse of energetic teenagers. As soon as the music started, those kids were up out of their seats, grooving with the rhythm and raising their hands to the heavens. Meanwhile, my church, for the most part, sat quietly with their hands folded in their laps. I looked over at my friend. Neither of us could see anything from a seated position behind the dance squad, so we stood up too. And, since we were up, we danced. I wouldn't have felt comfortable being the first one to stand up, but the teenagers went first and thereby "gave us permission".

Much as I do feel a strong desire to show devotion to the loving God who is with me when I pray, it's not easy to make that connection in an unfamiliar, loud, public place. I sang along with the worship songs and copied the movements of the teenagers, but for the most part I felt that I was going through the motions. There were points at which I felt my heart was touched, and I looked over several times to find my friend weeping with her head bowed in devotion, but it was just too alien an environment for me to fully "go there".

The concert had officially started at 6:30 pm.  Around 8:30 pm, I started getting really hungry. I had eaten dinner at 4:30 pm because we arrived early to find our seats. I waited for an intermission, but despite the fact that the programme was divided into "Act 1" and "Act 2", there was no break. I got hungrier and hungrier. I wondered if I should leave my seat and go all the way back up through the stands to find a hot dog or something. But I've heard a lot lately regarding the benefits of fasting with prayer, so I decided I'd just stay put.

Of course, since my blood sugar was low, I felt my passion for dancing along with the teenagers ebbing away. The heat wasn't on in the stadium, and I become more and more conscious of the cold. I thought: this is good. I never stop to think about how hard it is to be cold and hungry. Experiencing this will make me more sympathetic to the suffering of less fortunate people.

Actually, it mostly just made me cranky.

By the time the grand finale was done at 10:00 pm, I was ready to eat my chair.  But it wasn't as simple as rushing out the door and finding the closest food vendor.  There were over 14,000 people in that stadium, and remember, I was in the middle of the field, up near the front.  People funneled up the stairs and out the exits at a snail's pace.  It was 10:45 pm before we finally made it outside.

My friend headed off to the train station.  I went straight to the nearest Harvey's (a Canadian burger franchise).  Of course there was already a giant line-up.  I got into the line directly behind a couple in their early 20's who had obviously just come from the same concert.  Up past my bedtime, cold, and hypoglycemic, I was feeling less than patient.  You can imagine how tolerant I felt when three friends of the young couple casually slipped into the line ahead of me without the slightest acknowledgement that they were butting in.

At that moment, my thoughts were decidedly un-Christian.

I debated voicing my outrage, but by then I was so low on energy that I couldn't summon the oomph to tell all five of them off.  I waited another 20 minutes as the line inched forward.  

By the time I got home around midnight, I was completely wiped out.  The next day, my first thought was that attending the concert hadn't been worth the trouble.  However, I did gain something from it.  My curiosity was satisfied.  And there were a few choice moments when I felt in touch with the awe of worship.

I will always remember one woman, standing a few rows ahead of me, in the darkened stadium, in a lull between musical numbers.  She stretched her arms out, waaay out, tilted her head back, and shouted from her guts:  "Yes, Lord!  Thank you!  Thank you, Jesus!"  

Her voice echoed across the enormous space, spontaneous, raw, and beautiful.  I broke out in gooseflesh from head to toe.  In that moment, I witnessed something unrehearsed and real.  That's what I went for.  

Maybe it was worth it after all.


Warped Mind of Ron said...

It's good that you went, new experiences are good and I've heard worshiping in a group can be an experience. As in all things with me I feel an urge to keep to myself. As for the people cutting in line I believe you should forgive them, but only after giving them an earful for being so rude.

Karen said...

Sounds like a cool experience. Those group worship experiences can be very touching.

Nilsa said...

I think it's great that you're exploring all aspects of religion. You don't have to jump on the bandwagon for everything ... but, you can't knock it until you've tried it. Been there, done that. Next!?!

Sparkling Red said...

Ron: I probably would have had an easier time forgiving them if I had gotten my hostility off my chest. I'm not a naturally confrontational person. I have to push myself to do it.

Karen: One thing I learned is that there's a big difference worshipping with a group you've grown to know and trust vs. a large number of strangers. The trust that builds up over time makes it a lot easier, at least for me.

Nilsa: Exactly! I'm not strictly speaking the type of person who will try *anything* once - for example I have no wish to ever try hard drugs or skydiving - but I do like to try things before I judge them.

Kat said...

Red! Just say you on Desi's blog! It's been too long. HI!

Jenski said...

It sounds like a good experience and a good thing you went to decide if that kind of thing is good for you. I definitely prefer the cozy church setting myself. :-)

Anonymous said...

Praise the lord!

Aurora said...

Sounds like an epic experience! If you had to do it over again, would you go and get the hotdog halfway through?