On a Saturday night in early October, I found myself going to see a concert downtown with one of my roommates. On a whim, I had miraculously found tickets to the sold-out show only three days earlier. It was one of those nights that only come at the start of autumn when the leaves are beginning to change colors but it’s not too cold and the air feels crisp and smells cool but the sun is still out at 5 pm.
Brandi Carlile and her band put on an incredible show. She gave us four encores and told us that she liked us better than Radio City Music Hall, where she had played the night before. Though the music has certainly stuck with me, it’s something she said in between songs that I can’t get out of my mind. All night the crowd had been sitting for some songs and standing for others, so she said, “There’s some sitting and some standing. It’s just like church!”
It made me think about how concerts are actually a lot like church. People often dress up and go with their friends or family to both Mass and concerts. They are both gatherings of people who may not all know each other, but who are all united around their common purpose of being in that place. At a Mass, the priest leads the people of God in a celebration of divine grace and love. At a concert, the band leads the audience in a celebration of music and fellowship. Food and drink is often shared in both places. In the Mass and at a show, ultimately what brings people together is love: love of God, love for one another, or love of music.
For a long time I’ve maintained that there is something magical, even divine about live music. There is something ineffable about hearing a song that means the world to you performed by people you’ve been aching to hear play for years, or hearing a new song by a new band and falling in love with it. I describe many shows I’ve been to as religious experiences, and I do not mean that lightly. I mean that that show, that band, that random collection of people united by their love of music showed me a bit of grace. I mean that I felt the presence of God there in that particular moment in time and space. I mean that I see God just as fully present there in that theater as He is in the Eucharist. From The Head and The Heart to Lily & Madeleine to The Avett Brothers to Mumford & Sons to Brandi Carlile, I have felt grace and seen God in so many brilliant music makers.
As her fourth and final encore, Brandi sang a few beautiful verses of “Amazing Grace” a capella with all of the lights out. The hands involuntarily clasped to my heart and the tears rolling down my face were only the outward signs of a profound experience of God’s awesome grace and love. It had been a difficult and painful week, and I felt as if I were getting a great big hug from the Holy Spirit in that moment. I was renewed, refreshed, and reawakened to the possibility of grace in the midst of sorrow.
Apparently, grace is following me wherever I go these days. Or maybe I just started paying more attention to the little things and discovered that God is ever more present in my life than I ever imagined He could be. It isn’t only in those sudden moments of realization that I’ve begun to see grace: it’s everywhere. From watching the sunset across the Res to savoring a particularly beautiful passage in some reading for class to enjoying the company of an old friend, grace is just waiting to be found and embraced all the time.
When a singer ends her set saying, “I want you guys to leave with more love than you came in with,” I cannot help but think of the priest ending the Mass saying, “Go in peace to love and serve the Lord.”
All I have in response is to say, “Thanks be to God,” and to leave with more love.