by Marta Castillo, Leadership Minister of Intercultural Formation
All the nations you have made will come and worship before you, Lord; they will bring glory to your name. Psalm 86:9
At our annual assembly we worshipped the Lord in song in several different languages and styles. I wonder if anyone whispered to the person beside them like someone whispered behind me many years ago, “Why do we have to sing in these different languages? Why can’t we just sing in English?” I wonder if those at the assembly worship felt comfortable and engaged in the worship songs. Were they able to enter into the intercultural space of worshipping God in ways and styles and languages that were not their own? Did it fill them with joy to worship the Lord and bring glory to God’s name with other nations that God has made, even if it was different than what they were used to?
In an intercultural community, all are transformed because everyone learns from one another and grows together. In intercultural worship, we learn to choose to continue to worship God in the styles and languages of others. For me, what began as a discipline and continues to be a choice is now also a joy as I have incorporated intercultural worship as part of who I am with the help of the Holy Spirit. John 4:23 – Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in the Spirit and in truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks.
Several weeks ago, I attended a service at Nations Worship Center where we sang songs that had repeating lines. I appreciated the repetition while singing in a language in which I am not fluent. The repetition helped me to better understand the song and enter deeply into the spirit of worship. However, I must admit that I have not always appreciated songs with a lot of repetition. What I have learned to do is to go with the repetition rather than fight it. I can worship God in song as I repeat the same phrase over and over and meditate on the truth, just like I can pray or meditate on a phrase of Scripture.
Last weekend I attended a women’s retreat where we had a hymn sing. We sang hymn after hymn in a group of talented and passionate singers. It was beautiful. I was struck by the multitude of beautiful thoughts and word pictures that hymns contain and express in worship to God. But I had to choose to engage my mind and process the thoughts in worship to God as I sang complex music. I enjoyed the repetition of the choruses.
Matthew Westerholm, on the Desiring God website, suggests that often “our discomfort also comes from where we live, if you live in the Western world. Western culture treasures the novelty of words. It might feel like singing many words per minute is a worldwide Christian preference. But it’s not. It’s a Western oddity. If you were to listen to indigenous music from almost anywhere else in the world, you might describe it as “rhythmic, danceable, and repetitive. It may feel strange to discover that our personal preferences are a cultural anomaly. It is humbling to discover that we have something to learn from others, but not surprising. And it is the sort of humbling that, if we are willing to accept it, will bless us greatly in worship.”
Let us worship the Lord in unity, seeking to honor the worship of the nations as our own!