Jesuits like to say that we can see God in all things, and so I can report that God is in this really great rock n roll cover band that plays around my neighborhood in suburban Philadelphia.
I only know this because I’m in the band too, along with four other guys who grew up loving the rock, blues, and soul music that once dominated American popular culture. The “Devil’s Music?” I don’t think so. I’m pretty sure God actually digs a driving backbeat, tight harmonies, and a ripping guitar solo. Considering how many hymns rise anemically from so many congregations each Sunday, I can’t help but think that God greatly appreciates both the energy and theological underpinnings of the Rolling Stones’ “You Can’t Always Get What You Want.” Hey, you get what you need. Sound familiar?
I’m not referring exactly to the connections between Christian spirituality and rock music, which are numerous. After you enjoy Sam Cooke’s “Twisting the Night Away,” listen to him sing “Touch the Hem of His Garment,” which at 2:01 may be one of the shortest and certainly most soulful homilies you’ll ever hear. Stevie Wonder, U2, Bruce Springsteen, Elvis Presley, the Beatles, and Bob Dylan are just a handful of rock and soul artists with songs that are either infused with—or overtly refer to—Christian themes and allusions.
What I am talking about is the way our band is a community of five people—strangers when we first began playing together—built around a shared desire to create something bigger than and outside ourselves: a great song. Like any community, we have our frictions, we make our mistakes, and we sometimes have to remind ourselves what brings us together in the first place. But we also support one another and have helped one another become better musicians and band mates.
That would be enough, but the good news is that the band—through many hours of group rehearsal and individual practice—also gets to tap into and magnify that shared feeling when we perform for others. When the band is in a groove and the dance floor is crowded with people losing themselves in a song, you can feel a distinct energy that’s both separate from and part of everyone in the room. It doesn’t happen every time, but it happens enough to make it real. Without pushing the analogy too far, to me it’s like a good Mass: a community of people, brought together by a shared desire to feel a spirit created through performance of, in the one case, liturgical rituals, and in the other, a steady beat and an infectious melodic hook.
“When you sing you pray twice,” St. Augustine said in the fourth century, recognizing not just the words of hymns, but the ineffable gift that God gives us in music and the gift we return to God in music. What Augustine sensed 1,500 years ago got expressed again in the 1970s when the band Argent sang “God gave rock n roll to you…put it in the soul of everyone.”
So, yes, He’s in the band, and I’m happy for it. Now if He would only carry my amp for me. That thing is heavy.
Richard Wells serves on the board of directors of the Ignatian Volunteer Corps. He was born and raised in the Philadelphia area, and runs a consulting firm, The Wellynn Group, that focuses on marketing and communications. He and his wife live in Bala Cynwyd, PA, along with three children and three dogs. You may contact Richard at firstname.lastname@example.org.