Singing “Jesus, Lover of My Soul” this past Sunday to our church’s “folk band” accompaniment of guitar, mandolin, and accordion, I started thinking how songs like this connect with my heart—both old, faintly Celtic or Appalachian hymns and the more contemporary worship songs I grew up with. I love songs like this that speak of intimacy with Jesus. I love acoustic guitar. These songs draw me into worship—they are the music of my heart.
But they aren’t the music of everyone’s. A scene that has stayed with me from the film Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee features a Lakota father who became a “Christ-follower” with the attachments this meant to many missionaries of the time—short hair, white man’s clothes, English hymns. As he sends his son off to boarding school, he waves after the train and tries to sing “Jesus, Lover of My Soul,” though to a different tune than I know. But he breaks down, and instead picks up a traditional chant in his native language.
For in our times of deepest need, we need music that truly reaches and comes from our hearts, from who we are. One of Christian missions’ greatest failures has been when it fails to reach the heart of a people, to allow them to take the seed of the gospel for all nations and embrace and grow it within their own culture, as many European cultures have long had the luxury of doing. And when need is greatest and pain is deepest, foreign trappings just don’t cut it. We need music and dance and story and truth that reaches to the depths of who we are.
I love Celtic music—its rhythms and melodies stir something deep within me, what must be the literal Irish and Scottish blood in my veins. This stirring goes deepest when I listen to music like “Revival in Belfast,” since Celtic culture reaches its most beautiful where all culture does—in glory and joy and praise to Jesus. Many’s the time when, often all alone, I’ve danced and twirled and worshipped Him to those British Isle beats, heart stirring, feet tapping, and blood pumping, as must happen for African-Americans to gospel music, and for Native Americans to the drum.
I’ve thought what it would be like to be told I couldn’t worship the Lord that way, that I could only worship Him in the forms of a culture foreign to me. Even though I’m far more removed from my cultural roots than some, that pain would be deep and wounding.
Yet so many peoples have been told that for so long.
Times are changing, though. Native American ministries like Rainsong and Broken Walls have begun to explore what it looks like—and sounds like—to worship the Creator and His Son Jesus in the music of their hearts.
You can listen to some through here and here if you’d like to see. If it’s not your culture, the music might not be altogether comfortable at first, but neither would the music of my culture and heart be comfortable to many of another. And the truth of God’s Word and Person is the same, whatever the cultural expression—in fact, I think we learn more of who He is through the worship of other peoples, for no single culture is beautiful and varied enough to express Him.
So, please share…what is the music of your heart?