Good Vibrations: Hindu Reflections on a Gospel Choir Prayer Service
By: Devika Ranjan
December 17, 2014
The Georgetown Gospel Choir is renowned for its spirited services and warmth in the Protestant community. Because of my interest in the intersections between music and religion, I was fascinated by the idea of a soulful, spiritual rock-and-roll. Surrounded by finals, recent societal injustices, and the dark onslaught of winter, it seemed like the right time to attend.
The Gospel Choir itself was stunningly powerful. Made up of about thirty students, the choir belted out two introductory pieces that filled the cream stone space. Drums and keyboard added to this entirely unique style of worship—contemporary rock juxtaposed against the hallowed halls of a chapel. The students themselves blended together effortlessly, smooth and well-practiced SATB arrangements. Their voices, the keyboard, and the drums blasted through any typical images of silent church worship, literally vibrating through the benches and my body.
Those vibrations reminded me of an old Sanskrit prayer, the Gayatri Mantra. In the Hindu faith tradition, it is said that listening to or reciting the Gayatri Mantra invokes vibrations in one’s body which heal and strengthen. Whether this is psychological or physiological, it was certainly a similar feeling to hearing the fortified harmonies of Gospel Choir as they rose through St. William Chapel. Each student sang from the bottom of him or herself through soulful bursts of emotion.
During the gospel service, I wondered about the universality of prayer through music. Hinduism has a similar tradition of musicality through prayer; my grandfather believes that he best connects with the divine through his devotional songs. I have also seen music used widely in Jewish prayer services, Islamic jummah prayer, and Buddhist meditation. Although quantifiably immeasurable, I would love to understand what draws worshippers to musical devotion. Perhaps it is the feeling of blending harmonies with a group, the joy of solidarity, musical connection with our innermost selves, a form of ethereal and personal communication. Whatever fundamental spirituality is found in music, Gospel Choir’s soulfulness was warmly cathartic. Each member of the choir expressed their communal belief, happiness, and gratefulness to God through the songs.
The service that I attended happened to be Reverend Kesslyn Brade-Stennis’s last; she has been part of the Georgetown community since 2008, and it was clear to see how many people had grown spiritually under her guidance. In the light of recent events—the “no indictment” decisions, Bill Cosby’s sexual harassment allegations, and continued international atrocities—she asked “what the people of God need to hear.” She was talking to us, as Georgetown students: in finals, as minorities, grappling with changing world views, trying to make sense of the world around us. Members of the service hummed in approval as she posited a message of love and peace.
“Finally, brothers and sisters, rejoice! Strive for full restoration, encourage one another, be of one mind, live in peace. And the God of love and peace will be with you.” 2 Corinthians 13:11
She urged us towards love that is action-oriented and purposeful—so pertinent as we strive for social justice. “Live life on purpose,” she encouraged. “The world needs you now more than ever.”
In Gospel Choir, this message of action-oriented love is particularly joyful. Students are channeling their love for God and expressing their faith through song and dance. This is love in action—as is activism, and work, and everything that we do. I have seen the same message in my own temple services, in tennis practice, from my dean: do things with passion and for a reason. At the head of a new semester, this is something I must keep in mind. Although this purposefulness is easy to forget, I am sure that Gospel Service’s full harmonies and faithful musicality will remind me of the importance of action-oriented love.