Last Sunday, I kicked-off our church service with a sing-along performance of “Ladies and Gentlemen We Are Floating in Space,” as recorded by the band Spiritualized. It sounded beautiful, and was a long-time dream fulfilled for me. But the performance proved to be divinely connected to a number of things that played out seemingly coincidentally. Call it karma, call it synchronicity, call it God at work, or whatever; it points to a positive resonance at Greenpoint Reformed that I have witnessed since I’ve started attending in 2007. The song is just one example of many such things that occur on a small and large scale around the church.
The main lyric of the song is, “All I want in life’s a little bit of love to take the pain away / getting strong today / a giant step each day.” When Pastor Jen told me that the sermon theme would be on the healing power of community, I thought: “‘Ladies and Gentlemen’ is about the healing power of love, and love in the undercurrent of a good community, so I think that’s enough of a connection to perform this song at last.” On a whim, I reached out to our choir to sing the essential counter-melody, a section of Elvis Presley’s “Can’t Help Falling in Love,” but no one was available on short notice. So on Sunday, a little nervous, I figured I could wing it with the seated congregation as my choir. They did great! It then dawned on me that that was the ideal example of community=support=healing.
During the service, one of our congregants gave a testimony about her spiritual journey, and it so happened that it was all about how the challenge of finding love helped her become stronger and alleviated the personal pain she felt — another divine connection with the Spiritualized song! After Pastor Jen’s sermon, the band and I performed Leonard Cohen’s “Come Healing,” and it seemed the perfect follow-up to all this. I hadn’t planned any of this out, they were seemingly random choices that happened to harmonize very well.
I don’t spend too much time picking out songs for Sunday, mostly I am interested in a good flow. So when the song selections really reflect or magnify the sermon theme or concerns of our church community, it has a powerfully spiritual effect. This has happened often, when either I, Rob, Melissa, Beth, or Rachael has selected and performed music that really delivers the right sound and message for our church on any given Sunday, it feels like a pure channel, and to me, that’s God. It is the community to the pastors to the readings to the message to the music and right back again to the community.
I am very inspired by all this. As our church steadily grows, the good vibe at church is growing exponentially. Like many people in the congregation, I work very hard and have many worries and struggles every week; seeing Greenpoint Reformed at the end, that’s my lighthouse. This week I’m making another way-unorthodox choice and bringing in Joy Division’s “Atmosphere” (which concerns being courageous when faced with doubt and danger), and another beloved Spiritualized song, “Lord Can You Hear Me?” for the sermon theme of “doubt.” These songs have always had a strong spiritual force so it totally makes sense to present them in a church setting alongside traditional hymns, especially in a congregation as open-minded and artistically encouraging as ours.[Side note: Another bizarre coincidence (but perhaps not, considering the cosmic harmony at play here), about a month ago, I mashed-up Elvis Presley’s “Reach out to Jesus” with the Spiritualized chorus of “Lord Can You Hear Me?” for a sermon response. At that time, I did not know that the 1997 original version of the Spiritualized song “Ladies and Gentlemen” was meant to incorporate the counter-melody of Elvis’s “Can’t Help Falling in Love,” but they were not granted the rights by the Presley estate until 2009. The song was then re-released. When I thought of performing “Ladies in Gentlemen” at church this year, I was thinking only of the 1997 recording I owned all these years. When I looked up the lyrics online, I discovered the Elvis connection and realized without a doubt that the 2009 recording was the one we needed to perform. Dr. Carl Jung would call this a perfect case of synchronicity.]
Jason Benjamin is the Music Minister of Greenpoint Reformed Church in Brooklyn, NY. His Milton Street Revival Band performs there in the services every Sunday,11AM