Last Sunday, when I was at church at River Heights Vineyard, I raised my hands up during a worship song.
I don’t usually do that. Here is why.
Have you ever seen that movie Saved? If you have, do you remember that scene near the beginning, at the Christian high school, when the worship band is playing and the singer is singing and all of the students have their hands raised high, rapturous looks on their faces?
My years of fervent anti-Christian sentiment taught me to hate that shit.
There’s nothing like a raised hand, a lowered head, and closed eyes to show anyone who happens to be looking that you’re having a Moving Holy Experience. It’s like holding a sign up that says “Spirit Moved” with an arrow that points down at the bearer. Nothing else says, “Don’t talk to me unless it’s in tongues!” in quite the same fashion. As such, I spent years assuming that it was an affectation. After all, people can’t be moved by the holy spirit every goddamn time a worship band plays! It seemed to me very suspect that every person at this church was feeling the ol’ holy shakes coming on a the same time, and I began to judge people for showing their faith in such obvious ways. After all, I reasoned, didn’t Jesus constantly tell us to keep shit subtle?
As time has passed, and my confident anti-Christianity was replaced by a tentative Christianity, I learned that there is some honesty behind the raised hand, the lowered head, the closed eyes. For one thing, when I was convinced by God to hang out with Christians at Christian churches, it seemed that part of his pitch was that, occasionally, a weird, heavy feeling was going to settle over the room. It might make my skin tingle. It might feel like a light change in cabin pressure to my ears. If my eyes were closed, it might give me a light case of the head spins. It might make everyone want to shut up, all at the same time, so that the room became damn-near silent (with the exception of babies, who seem to either ignore the presence of the spirit or feel compelled to talk to it). It might happen at any time, but it would definitely be more likely to happen when a bunch of people all asked, at the same time, for it to show up. People refer to that feeling as the Holy Spirit, and when it shows up it’s kind of big deal.
When that happens, it can be ignored, for the most part. There’s no rule stating that people have to react to the Weird-Tingly-Cabin-Pressure-Thing. Some people might not even notice it. (As an aside, God knows I’ve sat in congregations that seemed to be moved to swaying like voodoo practitioners without feeling any such urge to sway myself, and while it’s tempting to assume that they were all delusional while I was clear-headed, that stance takes a bit more self-assurance and pride than I’m able to summon right at this moment. ) But in our western Christian culture, most people seem to have trained to react with those gestures I mentioned. They close their eyes, because that feeling is (honestly) kind of like a mild high, and because closing your eyes kind of seems appropriate for some reason. Their hands go up, usually in one of two ways. The first way is with the arm stretched up, hand and fingers fully extended, like a student eager to answer a teacher’s question. Alternately, some people raise both hands from the waist up, elbows bent, palms facing the ceiling. That pose vaguely resembles someone holding an outstretched samurai sword across their palms as they present it to their daimyo.
Yeah, you knew I was a geek when you came here.
Now, I won’t say that I feel the Weird-Tingly-Cabin-Pressure-Thing every week, because you don’t. And when I don’t feel it, I don’t raise my hands, or close my eyes, or lower my head, because to me, that would be an affectation. I’d be acting like I felt something that I didn’t. That doesn’t mean that everyone else follows my “rule”. In fact, most people who attend the churches I’ve attended just do that stuff as part of their worship. Maybe it’s how they remind themselves that they aren’t just listening to music and singing along – they’re worshipping. It’s something special, something set apart from singing in the car to the latest Imagine Dragons single.
Could some people be raising their hands and closing their eyes to show off how Christian they are? Could be, I suppose. No way of knowing, really. But the thing is, when the Weird-Tingly-Cabin-Pressure-Thing is happening, questions like that seem comparatively unimportant. Last week, when our worship pastor Justin Law (really his name!) was playing “The Offering,” I felt that feeling come over me. And I resisted lifting my hands for a moment, because I was afraid that I would feel like a fake. But then it occurred to me – the only reason I was resisting was because I wanted to, and my holding my hands at my sides, I was being a fake.
So, Samurai Sword it was.
After the song was over, and my eyes opened, and my mild “spirit high” faded away, I saw the people around me having the same heavy-lidded look on their faces that I felt on my own. Brandi was seated next to me, head in her hands. And Justin, up on the stage, was idly strumming.
“Wow,” he said, “the spirit is really heavy in the room right now. Jesus, thanks for being with us.”
So in that spirit, I’ve amended my rule – I will raise my hands, but only when Jesus shows up. That seems fair.