As May rolls around, we are just a few weeks away from our annual musical celebration which we call, “Music Sunday”. All the choirs and all the accompanists will bring everyone into a musical celebration of God’s goodness and God’s presence in our lives. As I was thinking about Music Sunday, I started thinking about the importance of music in my own life, and the way music opens our hearts and minds to God. There is no doubt that making music, and listening to music, are spiritual experiences.
In an article I read this week, Paul Westermeyer, Professor of Church Music at Luther Seminary, in St. Paul, Minnesota, wrote:
The dictionary defines “spirituality” as relating to the immaterial and incorporeal as opposed to the material and physical. Christians who confess God as spirit and taking flesh in Christ embrace both the immaterial and the material. Music itself comprehends the same embrace: what is perceived as intangible or immaterial sound, consists of physical vibrations heard through material bodies that pulsate. Praise, proclamation, celebration, and adoration all run together on a musical circuit of sound. What is perceived as incorporeal sound takes flesh in vibrating human bodies. They praise and adore the unseen God enfleshed in Christ, as the Holy Spirit impels the singing of words that carry the Word of God by and through Christ’s body the church.
I thought that was an interesting, if not complex way of describing the spiritual nature of church music.However, some others have put it in simpler terms:
Susan Palo Cherwien summarizes it when she says that “singing hymns to worship God . . . unites body with spirit”.
St. Augustine is reported to have said, “The one who sings prays twice.”
Martin Luther saw music as “a gift of God that proclaims the Word of God. Once people know what God has done for them in Christ they must gladly and willingly sing.” He believed that God’s gift of language combined with song was given so that we “should praise God . . . by proclaiming the Word of God through music.”
John Calvin, like Martin Luther, thought that singing was “peculiarly created to tell and proclaim the praise of God.”
John and Charles Wesley pointed in the same direction. As Carlton Young says, the Wesley’s “paraphrased the religion of the heart into song”.
People have been singing songs of praise and proclamation for as long as they have been gathering together to worship God. S.T. Kimbrough identified “this union of music and human words as Lyrical Theology.”
In my own experience, I have sat and read the lyrics of songs, and thought they were meaningful. However, when I listened to, or sang the words and the musical notes together, the union touched my heart and soul, and filled me with such emotion I was moved to tears.
”Revelation Song”, a piece our choir performed a couple years ago on music Sunday, is just such a piece of music. That song is moving to me when I listen to it, but it was even more moving, more spiritually expanding when I was able to sing it! (If you don’t remember it, maybe we can convince Doug Trumble to have the choir perform it again soon!)
But it is not just church music that has given me those emotional and spiritual experiences. I have been touched in heart and soul by popular music that has what I call “leanings toward the divine”, either because they speak of God’s creation with awe, or because they hint of the wonder of God’s presence all around us.
Some examples of such songs are John Denver’s “Rocky Mountain High” and The Moody Blues “Just You and Me.”
So, with all that said, I hope you will make a point to be in worship on May 19th at 10:00 a.m., when we will praise and proclaim the Word of God in music. And as you sing the hymns of the day, let the words and the music fill not only your mouth, but also your heart with praise for our great God.
Then, as you listen to the music performed by the choir, don’t just listen with your ears, but also listen with your soul. Because when you listen deeply and let the music and the Word take flesh as it vibrates in and through your own body, you, and everyone present, will experience God’s presence profoundly.
Blessings and Peace,
It was the duty of the trumpeters and singers to make themselves heard in unison in praise and thanksgiving to the Lord, and when the song was raised, with trumpets and cymbals and other musical instruments, in praise to the Lord, “For he is good, for his steadfast love endures forever,” the house, the house of the Lord, was filled with a cloud, so that the priests could not stand to minister because of the cloud; for the glory of the Lord filled the house of God. - 2 Chronicles 5:13-14