I grew up with an aversion to religion. My grandparents were not religious, and my mom detested Christianity.
As we all know, religion has a bloody history. And in many ways throughout the centuries its various incarnations have detracted from authentic spirituality. I probably don’t need to name all the physical and political atrocities for you to understand what I’m talking about, but the Crusades, the Spanish Inquisition, the Salem Witch Trials, pedophilia, FGM, stoning, and religious barbarism of all kinds and creeds are just a few of the assaults on the human body, mind, and soul that have always turned me off.
And my mom always half joked that she’d probably been burned at the stake in a previous life.
With all that, oddly enough I was sent to a Catholic school for a couple years as a child. When I was about 7 I was moved from a particularly shitty public school and into a Catholic school because it was thought that perhaps I’d get a better education there.
The environment was intensely alien to me. Especially because I was a child, and especially because I had no context, I didn’t get any of it.
The school had an underground tunnel, which bore fallout shelter signs, and led first with flickering fluorescent lights, and then with no lights, over to the church on the next block.
I remember once standing in a single-file line in the classroom on our way to the tunnel, and one of the kids asked me if I believed in God.
“Which one?” I asked, because I didn’t understand the Trinity. Did he mean the Father, the Son, or the Holy Spirit? And why did you cross yourself in four directions when there were only three kinds of people to cross yourself in the name of?
I’ve been sarcastic since I was born, so they didn’t take this the right way. I was genuinely confused. But they thought I was blasphemous, a heathen savage, which, I suppose, I was and am. Perhaps if Dr. Bronner had been there to tell me that God Is One! All Is One!, I might have understood the Trinity concept and had a better answer. Though I’m sure I would have considered it and said, probably, that I didn’t think I believed because I didn’t know. I had no knowledge of God. At all.
When I was a teenager, I became enamored with the word agnostic.
Anyway, that’s a long-winded way of telling you that if you have an aversion to religion too, you should still check out the song in the video below.
When you listen to this, don’t play it on your phone. Don’t play it on your laptop. Turn your stereo on and listen to this fucker loud.
Do you hear those drums? Those keys? Do you hear that bass? That rhythm? Do you hear the soul in the rich voices of the choir? The joy in their clapping?
Shit like this is what many of us are missing in a culture-deprived society.
I recently learned that clapping is one of the healthiest things you can do. In ayurveda and Chinese medicine, clapping is recommended to stimulate blood circulation and open blockages in the energy centers in your hands, which flow throughout your body to feed all its systems. Qi gong teaches that clapping helps you develop your healing hands:
I imagine that clapping also balances the left and right hemispheres of your brain, just like prayer pose. In fact, I’ve been thinking of clapping as an active prayer pose. There’s a reason they’re both universal gestures.
Singing is also healthy. It massages your thyroid, strengthens your lungs and diaphragm, and releases endorphins.
If you’re into yoga, you know that mantras and chanting are based on primal sounds that connect you with energy. Kundalini yoga teaches that as you vibrate sounds, “the universe vibrates with you.” I’m a big fan of chakra chanting, where it’s taught, for instance, that the seed syllable lang balances the root chakra and feeds the three main channels of the body. It’s probably no different from Gregorian chanting or any other kind of chanting, really, where the aim is similarly to meditate and commune. It’s quite soothing. [BTW, here’s the Radha Krishna Temple album I grew up with, produced by George Harrison. Because of The Beatles, I knew slightly more about Krishna than Jesus.]
I’ve noticed that singing “hallelujah” in Nobody Knows has a soothing effect too. Singing every word of that song with the Youth for Christ Choir feels fantastic because of how long they project each sound to let all the sorrow out. And it feels fantastic because as weird as “hallelujah” is for this heathen, there is magic in that word.
Sing this song and clap your hands for 8 minutes, and feel your spirit rise.
Also check out my playlist of Gospel music on YouTube. I keep adding to it anytime I think of another song I love. And let me know in the comments what I’m missing. I’d like to add Bob Dylan’s Man Gave Names to All the Animals, but there’s very little of studio BD on YT.
Image: My friend Mr. djvass