The Complicated Practice of ‘Shouting.’


* I’d like to apologize on behalf of whoever posted this for classifying this person as a “churchy white guy.”

It often begins with a promise. Nothing grandiose. It’s usually something commonplace, unremarkable on its surface. A statement that, outside the rapturous context of a Charismatic sanctuary, would seem merely sentimental or cliché. Without the urgent syncopation or the unrelenting bass, whatever statement sparked the frenzy would seem simply two-dimensional; it may have resonated from where it appeared on a page, but it would not have caused unbidden joy to surge up like a geyser.

It would not be the stuff of public spectacle.

This promise may originate in scripture, or in the oft-echoed archives of a minister’s book of sermons. It will likely resemble, “Your breakthrough is coming” or “… But God!” or “Joy comes in the morning,” though I have heard it in iterations both more profound and far less.

For the uninitiated—or the rhythmless—the spontaneous outbreak of loud prayer and dance known in many circles as “shouting” can be equal parts wistful and disconcerting.

I encountered the video above for the first time yesterday, though it’s been available on YouTube for nearly two years now. Watching it, I immediately shifted back to the neo-Pentecostal context within which I was raised.

We weren’t strict holiness; pants weren’t banned among women and makeup a-plenty could be found on their faces. But we, like our ancestors, believed that the day of Pentecost recounted in Acts could be recreated in services on Sunday mornings.

This in-filling of the Holy Spirit we found ourselves re-enacting through dance and indiscernible utterance was a regular, if not frequent occurrence. The keyboardist would strike an initial chord and halt, a cue to those eager to revel that their time was about to come. Congregants arose, expectant, as the same musician teased out a few more riffs before stopping short once more, this time to leave a preacher room to reiterate his proclamation–and within minutes, the floors, though plushly carpeted and the chairs, though neatly arranged to give the place a more contemporary feel than arcane, hymnal-holding pews, begin to shudder.

Now, in my time, I have been both an active participant and a detached observer of this practice. I was always more comfortable standing relatively still during the worshipful melee, being quietly reflectively, like someone whose life is flashing before her eyes as she stands in the eye of a tornado. Though it’s been the experience of many that “shouting” makes them feel closer to God, I tend to feel closer to Him when I refrain from it. I imagine myself standing with Him, watching, and I try in great vain to read His mind.

Participating in a shout means risking being consumed by it. I do not fancy myself a control freak; I believe in recklessly abandoning decisions and actions to faith. I am less comfortable with forgetting my self and surroundings in a public setting. I am never entirely un-self-conscious, and whenever I attempt to dervish in this way that indicates the “liberty” I feel in Christ, it often feels false, conjured simply because the music and the congregation call for it. It feels less unprompted than orchestrated and I’m unable to concentrate on God when I’m questioning my own sincerity.

Mind you, in the privacy of my home, with an Israel Houghton track or my own voice or a worshipful silence as accompaniment, I have been known to gesticulate wildly and allow my body to be the prayer my mind cannot construct.

But that’s private.

There have been other times when I have looked with longing at the dancers all around me, completely unaware of my conflict and experiencing no similar ones of their own. Like the brother in this video, I’ve clapped with restraint and with hope that I’d feel, even if for just a moment, whatever they were feeling. These are the moments when I’m able to lay aside my skepticism that the whole thing is so much pomp and performance, and I wish I knew how to entirely leave my wits for a moment simply for the purposes of praise.

So I can relate to him, when he’s called out by the minister who lays his hands at the man’s feet, trusting that God will grant him, not the ability to jig, but to be entirely un-self-conscious in his pursuit of closeness to God. I won’t get into my lifelong fear of being “called out” of a congregation and summoned to the altar for prayer, where the minister insist that the Lord has told him to reveal some secret facet of my life to everyone within earshot.

That’s a different essay for a different day.

This is just about what it is to subscribe to a faith whose practices are often as unsettling as they are uplifting and edifying.

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2 thoughts on “The Complicated Practice of ‘Shouting.’

  1. My sistah, my sistah, I FEEL YOU. I have lived that scenario countless times and love your description of practicing restraint to be closer to God while He is in the room. I have also cleaned a pew or few when the Spirit got tired of me flexing and took over. Fabulous piece. Write on!

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