Metaphors in literature and poetry are used to uncover truth. They draw attention to realities that are otherwise hard to perceive by drawing on imagery from another source. They enlighten and reveal. But not in worship music.
In worship songs, the most common metaphors are not used to highlight unspoken truth but to provide broad, generic imagery to allow everyone to project their own circumstances and situations into congregational singing
This is why we sing about mountains, oceans, valleys and storms; they can mean anything.
However, the flip side of meaning anything is that they also mean nothing.
Metaphors should illuminate. But in worship lyrics, they obfuscate.
So why do we use these tired images to represent difficulty and struggle and avoid speaking about specific issues in our corporate worship songs?
When I think of all the people in my church community – and the other communities I’ve been part of over the years- there are two issues that are most commonly hidden by generic worship metaphors that many people are struggling with: sickness and financial difficulties.
These are almost universal issues for families and communities, yet we avoid singing about them specifically. Instead we turn to ‘mountains’ and ‘storms’.
I believe this is because it is uncomfortable and irrelevant for those who struggle with them the least: the rich and healthy.
And in America, the rich and healthy are almost synonymous.
When we sing about mountains and oceans it can mean struggling to pay the rent OR struggling to sell your $750k second home because the market has dipped!
When we sing about storms it can mean battling to pay for insulin OR the turmoil of your portfolio on the stock market!
Our commonly used worship metaphors enable the rich to avoid considering the daily financial difficulties of their brothers and sisters. And it is all done under the guise of worshipping ‘together’.
This is accepted by rich, middle class and poor alike because we have been taught corporate worship is an opportunity for personal connection between you and God.
But it isn’t.
Gathered worship times are the coming together around a table. To share in joy, love and co-suffering. Tears and laughter. Empathy, compassion and openness; together in the presence of God
Singing a worship song that isn’t directly speaking to my life circumstances should not be seen as boring or irrelevant. In the Kingdom of God; my sister’s struggle is my struggle.To sing about it brings dignity and solidarity with them
“But mountains and oceans and storms are Biblical imagery” I hear you say.
Well, so are Mammon, storehouses and the eye of a needle. But we don’t sing about them. I wonder why.