main cow pic


the ache

Filed under: music,willow,worship — 8:16 pm

This Mother’s Day weekend at Willow, we dusted off the stunning Alanis Morissette song “That I Would Be Good” to give voice to the deep longing and fear that so many mothers and women feel on a daily basis.  (I’d argue that most men feel this too, if we can admit it).  In the cracks of this morning’s rehearsal, my mind wandered to some other Alanis songs, and I started playing that haunting piano intro to “Uninvited“.  Numerous people commented how stirring that song is.  One friend even mentioned afterward, “Aaron, that little melody moves me more deeply than any of the worship songs you’re playing today.”  And it got me wondering…

Why was the most evocative, emotionally honest moment of the service restricted to sound check?
Why don’t more of these moments happen in our services?
Is there a place for these haunting, moody emotions in worship,
or should we just sing happy songs?

Theologically and theoretically, I believe that we HAVE to be honest about the deep ache inside every one of us, even in worship.  Especially in worship!  The Light only makes sense in context of the darkness.  Almost all the art that moves me deeply has a little bit of melancholy…a touch of sadness…a bit of that longing for how things are supposed to be…a cry that mourns our incompleteness.  But it doesn’t leave us there.  It honestly and courageously wraps its arms around the dark reality, and then calls us upward toward Hope.
Great art (and great worship) is not afraid of the ugliness while unapologetically pursuing the beauty.

I believe that to my core.  But I don’t know how to help this happen in a mega-church worship service.  Really.  No one is stopping me – I just don’t know how to do it well.  Any thoughts?


  1. I remember once I tried to set “I Could Sing Of Your Love Forever” in the context of Coldplay’s “Politik” several years ago. I used that beginning minor hook to actually underscore the chorus. I was going for the vibe of wanting to sing of God’s love even under hard circumstances.

    It wasn’t a success, it freaked everyone out. I had someone come up to me and tell me that praise tunes shouldn’t be done in minor keys, that it was “downright creepy.” I admit the experiment wasn’t one of my best choices as a worship leader, but the idea behind the protest has bugged me for years since then.

    I’ve gone through seasons of trying to follow “trends” in worship leading….seasons where it seems like heavy tunes and candles are working, seasons where it seems like we feel obligated to make everyone feel “happy” at church. I’ve stopped putting my ear to the ground and started listening to the Spirit instead. And if it’s a moment of darkness, so be it.

    Comment by misty jones — May 8, 2011 @ 8:55 pm

  2. I totally agree Aaron. When September 11th happened, our churches didn’t know what to sing. Reading Fox’s Book of Martyrs gives an amazing perspective on the suffering the church has endured. There were clear periods of mourning and tragedy. The Psalms clearly remind us of that.

    Lots of great lyrics that could be incorporated into modern music at this collection of hymns.

    Another resource that I love to utilize is responsive readings and prayers that deal specifically with both joy or mourning for specific situations from time to time. I think those can help us express emotions in a powerful way in addition to song. I have found that despite the megachurch complexities, they are still relevant.

    Great post!

    Comment by Chris Hughes — May 8, 2011 @ 9:20 pm

  3. Aaron, For me, the most moving experiences at church have been the ones where the feelings I am afraid to express get drawn out or the a light has been shown on a fear I have been hiding in a dark place.
    I sobbed through worship today and gave up to God the fears and stresses I’d been carrying around all week. Operating with these denigrating voices in my head and under the stress women – and really all people are under in this culutre – is just so normative. So, until I got to church and heard the second woman’s monologue and how crazy-overwhelming her life is – like MINE is – I didn’t realize that it’s too much. That I should feel fried, and that Jesus wants more for me. … more grace, more forgiveness, more unconditionally loving experiences. I started tearing up. But, when Becky started singing… my sobbing startled my husband. BUT THESE are the worship experiences that I remember… these are the ones where I can feel the Father’s arms around me, where I experience grace. In my life, this is the God I need to know. We talk about brokenness, but during services like this, it’s different; it’s like a spiritual real, emotinoally naked, vulnerable experience with God. I love our church – I love how Bill and Darren stretch my heart and my mind and educate me, and I love how I’m noticing more historical information that puts Jesus’s renegade teaching in cultural context. …like, I’m 30 years old, and I’m just learning how radical Jesus really was! I also love when I get convicted of things at church. But, on stressed out day, (and there are a lot of those days), my heart has a hard time feeling the difference between conviction and condemnation. Today, all I felt was the yearning for God in my hectic, over-scheduled life, and Becky’s music helped me feel God with me – just for me, even as he was there for everyone – in that packed auditorium. So, I say break my heart in worship. It helps me want to sing those happy praise songs. 🙂 Oh, and Aaron? Excellent work today.

    Comment by Amy Wright — May 8, 2011 @ 10:08 pm

  4. Aaron, as an artist, I believe tension is key to good worship, just as it is in art. This eerie piano interlude was so moving because it existed in stark contrast to the rest of what happens during a worship service. Kudos to you for wanting more of that.

    I think the key to incorperating that into better worship is to instill a sense of obligation to creating good art among the leadership and to coax the community to desire good art and undrstand what makes art good.

    Comment by Dustin — May 9, 2011 @ 7:38 am

  5. Amy,

    Thanks so much for your comment and the honesty. I’m thrilled to hear that the service created some holy space for you. It did for me too. (Becky sure sand the lights out, didn’t she?). I think your insight about having a hard time “feeling the difference between conviction and condemnation” is profound and really important.

    glad to be on the journey with you and the Willow family…

    Comment by aaronieq — May 9, 2011 @ 7:59 am

  6. You know, I’ve been thinking a lot about this recently as well. A couple of days ago I was shocked to see Joy Williams appear on my TV while I was watching Leno — several years after she had sort of disappeared from CCM. She is now one half of a fantastic folk duo called “The Civil Wars” (maybe you already know this). I was curious about her journey and did some googling, and found this interview. You should check it out if you get a chance – whether or not you agree with everything she says, she brings up some interesting issues relevant to what you are saying:

    Here’s one quote from the interview that really set me back on my heels:
    “I understand that the mantra for a lot of Christian music is that it’s “safe for the whole family,” but I don’t believe that faith is always meant to be safe.”

    A lot of churches are all about potlucks and hymns, and there is value in those things, but in isolation they comprise a “safe faith.” One thing I’ve come to appreciate about Willow over the past few years is that it has challenged and stretched me to venture into uncharted territory in my faith. Worship can be a huge part of this process, if the leaders are willing to take risks. I think of any worship team I have seen, you guys are in the best place to start stretching people’s conceptions of worship. I have been at times delighted and broken by worship at Willow. You’ve already started laying a foundation. Just go for it. Next week I will look forward to hearing some Smashing Pumpkins 🙂 (that was a joke…maybe)

    Comment by Lauren — May 9, 2011 @ 11:09 am

  7. I think there are two things to think about in this discussion that you (Aaron) have graciously brought up.

    1. Are we talking about the music? After reading this post I went to the piano, remembering vaguely that melody. It’s a very minor sound against a D major and a Gm.

    That got me thinking.

    Aaron, if you were playing that melody during sound check, and someone was deeply moved, it would seem that just the music moved them.

    This would be obvious to us in Classical, instrumental minor pieces can evoke a feeling of sadness. Great melody can bring us to a place even without lyrics.

    Great example here:

    Ben Zander talks about how a piece can be played in a moving way or in a “not so moving way” on TED.

    So I think music, sad music, excellent sad music, performed with excellence, without lyrics can be deeply moving. And yes, it’s absent from most of our worship in the american evangelical church.

    2. There is often a lack of texts that deal with suffering or lament. We all seem to be talking about this, even the reformed tradition is on board with this.

    It makes me wonder if the problem is with those of us who are planning each week. Are we being as intentional about dealing with suffering as we are with affirming God’s promises?

    I don’t always think about it. I should.

    Texts of lament and suffering should be added to our liturgical movements each week…

    I’m not a bullet point kind of guy, but it would seem after reading all these comments there are 2 things (not) happening 1. Sad music and 2. Sad text.


    Comment by Jeremy Batten — May 9, 2011 @ 2:06 pm

  8. Jeremy,

    fantastic observation. just adding a few minor chords to the same, shallow ideas is not what we’re talking about. well said!


    Comment by aaronieq — May 9, 2011 @ 6:34 pm

  9. Aaron, hi friend. I have to say, I’m a minor kind of a girl. I will admit that I knew every word to that song, and well — to every Alanis song (particularly when acoustic). Worshiping with sadness, or lamenting, would be a beautiful, spiritual thing for me. When you do “I Want Jesus to Walk with Me”, and just nail the beautiful, almost haunting lament of the people who called those hymns out to God — I can hardly breathe. I personally welcome worshiping in minor keys… Now I’m actually hoping for it! 🙂 thanks for all you do

    Comment by Jorie — May 9, 2011 @ 8:13 pm

  10. This is deeply moving. A discussion I yearn for. I am on staff as the preschool coordinator at a megachurch and this point grabs my heart. A co-ministry worker showed me your blog today.

    Thank you for sharing your thoughts… And, for reminding me of songs I listened to what feels like yesterday and I had forgotten all about. How beautiful it is that songs can express such deep feelings.

    And, maybe it is because I am in a land in between but I think for my own church they won’t play songs like this for fear of not making things look happy to the seeker. Valid point…

    Comment by J L W — May 16, 2011 @ 7:13 pm

RSS feed for comments on this post. TrackBack URL

Leave a comment