"But if you want to go out dancing": Another Kind of Worship
*In recognizing the concert shootings in our recent history, I want to make a disclaimer that sometimes these spaces are physically unsafe and triggering. I have/am working through this as I balance the collective hurt of this violence and my personal experience of concert venues (having felt physically unsafe in some venues, but completely welcomed and safe in others).
A few years ago I heard a pastor once give a sermon on styles of worship. As the leader of a congregation that throws their hands up and closes their eyes, he was trying to make the case that young people should worship Jesus the same way they worship music at concerts. While I definitely took that with a grain of salt, this idea of concert "worship" really struck me.
Last night I had the honor and privilege of seeing MUNA, a queer womxn indie pop band, in hip Logan Square, Chicago. The venue, with outdated off-white crown moulding and wooden panel flooring, felt like an old high-school reunion, or maybe an emo prom. Upon arriving, a wide demographic of fans were all throwing their arms up, shaking their bodies, grabbing their friends and loved ones, and letting the lights and glitter flash around them to the reverberations of the bass. I took a deep breath and felt at home as I merged into the crowd.
At the end of their set, the band asked to take a moment of silence. Die-hard fans had been anticipating their hit song "I Know A Place" and the band wanted to take advantage of these powerful emotions before continuing. Katie, the lead member, invited everyone to close their eyes and think of the people in their lives who need a safe place to run to in order to feel human and be free. She breathed into the mic and the entire venue fell to a reflective hush. We were thinking about the state of the world, our hurting loved ones, the need to escape from our own personal traumas. As I allowed the energies of other queers and fans to sink into my own skin, I thought about the pinnacle lyric from the bridge, "I know a place where you don't need protection, even if it's only in my imagination." Looping over and over in my head, I thought about my friends' interpretation of this song as a metaphor for coming out. These moments of quiet leading up to this song were powerful because, for so many people like me, it allows a universal space to simply exist. As an added layer, the music video references our country's violence against the oppressed, nodding specifically to victims of authoritative power and general political unrest. Considering these silent intentions, the room came together as a community in preparation for release.
Katie's invitation into a new form of prayer got me thinking: are concerts another kind of worship?
On my four hour bus ride home, I re-lived my own release of the weight of the world; I danced with my friends and claimed a safe space for myself, if only for a few minutes. That feeling, though special, is also extremely familiar.
As James Taylor let himself riff through "Country Road" on my 21st birthday, I sipped a beer and raised my other hand along with thousands of other people, yearning to return to the feeling of being home, of retreating or visiting a place of comfort in times of change and distance. Recognizing the pastoral nature of strangers connecting to a musical message, I thought of my experience seeing Florence + The Machine. Before "South London Forever", Florence encouraged every person to turn to their neighbor to embrace one another and say "I love you". I spoke this sentiment to my best friend of only two hours and we cried together as we witnessed thousands of strangers hug in the name of human compassion and empathy. I thought about how some concerts allow you to enter deeper into an understanding of yourself and others and this brought up memories of dancing with, twirling, and kissing my [then-] girlfriend at Hayley Kiyoko's Expectations concert in Manchester. For one of the first times in my life, I felt warmly careless and completely unjudged. Every other person in the hall, screaming raw and real lyrics from the depths of their chests, seemed to feel a similar sense of solidarity, creating a safe space of release.
The colored lights, the loud speakers, and the wide dance floors all contribute to the sacredness of engaging in another kind of worship. In singing with people who know your hurt and struggle, you join in an experience of submission to your most beautiful and raw self: an expression that is equally spiritual and queer. Still recovering from the emotional aftermath of MUNA, I'm processing how letting your mind and body move to the music can and should be claimed as spirituality--as a worship to reclaiming safe space for yourself and those who know your journey.