Isn't that amazing, Mark? As I think about it, it seems more and more to me that this is a genre of music that helps to build a sense of community and connectedness. We are a social creature and this kind of experience seems to link right into or hard-wiring. On the other hand, there is a powerful feeling of cleansing, of acceptance, of new chances, all wrapped up in this music.
I went to a Mahalia Jackson concert in a black high school in New Haven around 1960. As young as I was, I could appreciate how she took the crowd and slowly raised them to a level of excitement that was just a tiny bit less than hysteria. Then she let them relax for a bit and with another song or another way of singing even the same song, she would build them up again. I became a part of that, moving with the people around me, feeling swept up, reassured and then lifted again. People were crying, were testifying, were opening themselves up to Jesus through her songs.
I hesitate to add that there is a dark side to this as anyone who has watched the clear bright faces of the Hitler Jugend sing their very moving songs.
Group singing releases very powerful emotions as unions, political parties, nations, politicians, religions all know so well. In the end, we are responsible for what we take way from soul stirring songs. For me, I feel that what I take away from the gospel songs that I love so much makes me a better person in some indefineable way even though the concordance of my beliefs and the fundemental Christan faith expressed in most of those sacred songs is small, at least as far as the details go. However, in the largest sense, perhaps I do agree that I am just a small part of creation and that there is much beyond my control, much to wonder at, to hold in awe and much to be grateful for even if I don't quite know the exact address to which to send my thanks.