God in Music

(I’m trying something new this week. If you would like to hear me read my blog post aloud, just click the play button. Let me know in the comments if you’d like me to do more of this!)  (If you’re reading this in an email, you may have to click here to hear the post on my site.)

 

God is a creator.
Supernova
Pulsar
Starry Sky
It is the first thing we learn about Him. In the beginning, God created.
Perhaps it is because I am an artist myself, but I like to think that this is important. That God-as-creator being the first thing He tells us about Himself is a clue to His character, to what He deems is significant.
Creator God placed art in a position of great importance because it reminds us of the glory that once was and the glory that will be again.
Music
I don’t know much about the visual arts or about theater or dance.  Music, however, is an art that I know quite intimately, and I love the insights it gives us into the nature and character of God.
For example, music helps us to understand time. It shows us that the present is what is most important. Music only truly exists in the present. Music in the future is just a possibility, just a plan. Music in the past is done, it cannot be heard again. Music in the present? Beauty. Only as it passes that razor edge moment of the present time can it be heard and appreciated.
Music also shows us that taking time to accomplish something can be good. More than good, it can be amazing. We often chafe against the delay between creation and restoration. We want God to come now, for Him to make everything perfect immediately. Yet when we listen to a Beethoven symphony, we are drawn into more than an hour of experiencing the music unfold and are astounded at the way it all fits together to create the final chords. No one would be impatient for that hour to pass just to reach the end. We savor that hour of music and that hour of music makes the ending all the more stunning.
As we experience the music’s dark shadows and turns, we allow ourselves to be led far more profoundly into the story’s sense and power. Music is remarkably instructive here, because more than any other art form, it teaches us how not to rush over tension, how to find joy and fulfillment through a temporal movement that includes struggles, clashes and fractures. ~ Jeremy Begbie in Resounding Truth
One more?
Music give us insight into understanding the trinity. Three-in-one is beyond the grasp of comprehension, yet God gave us music to help. If I play one note on the piano, it fills up all available aural space. There are no gaps. If I play a three-note chord on the piano, all three notes still fill up all the same available aural space, yet all three notes also sound their distinctive pitch. More than that, it is not a particular chord unless all three notes are played together.
The notes interpenetrate, occupy the same heard space, but I can hear them as (three) notes…What could be more apt than to speak of the Trinity as a three-note chord, a resonance of life; Father, Son, and Spirit mutually indwelling, without mutual exclusion, and yet without merger, each occupying the same space, ‘sounding through’ one another, yet irreducibly distinct, reciprocally enhancing, and establishing one another as one another? ~ Jeremy Begbie in Resounding Truth 
There are many other ways that God uses music to teach us about Himself, to give us wisdom to understand Him more. What are some that you have thought of?
It leaves me awestruck with gratitude. I am grateful beyond measure that He gives us something so beautiful as a way of revealing Himself.
You artists who practice other genres of art, what theology do you find in your particular art form? What about those of you who are non-practicing art lovers? Do you see God in any particular form of art?

Art credit: Thanks to NASA for sharing such magnificent photographs of the mysteries of space.

Ethics and Jazz

My kids live by their own code of ethics.
If a wrong has been done, every member of the family must be made aware.
Wronged
Upset
If a sister gets a new toy, all other sisters immediately claim playing rights. Unless it is their toy, in which case it belongs to them alone.
Sharing is hard
It belongs to me
All are mine
If one sister is playing with the baby, all other sisters must immediately leave whatever they were doing and try to take over the baby’s attention.
My baby
I want her
Ethics.
It is one of those seminary words, one of those university words, one of those first-day-in-the-workplace words.
Rather than the list of rules by which we live, it is actually a description of reality.
Perhaps it is better portrayed as a description of what we observe or know about the fabric of reality. It is a link between what we believe and how we live. A link between our mind and our heart.
Learning about ethics is often viewed as unnecessary, as irrelevant to our daily lives. Yet if we don’t understand the ethics of our faith, how can we know how to act in any given situation?
I, for one, am not able to memorize enough rules to cover any condition in which I might find myself. None of us want to live that way, constantly searching our minds for a rule to obey.
I would much rather live like a great jazz pianist.
Dave Brubeck quartet
Diana Krall
A jazz pianist, a really good one, knows his art intimately. It is a part of his spirit.
When he plays with a band, he knows what exists in the music. He knows the nature of the musical form, he knows the structure of the harmonics well enough to think quickly and compose something that fits in with the reality of the music.
It is so seamless it appears as though he had spent weeks composing it ahead of time.
This is how I want to live.
I want to know God and how He has created the nature of this life and this world well enough to know how to respond no matter what is happening around me. I want to be able to react so seamlessly that it appears I had spent weeks thinking through my reaction ahead of time.
I want, I suppose, to have the mind of Christ.
For who knows a person’s thoughts except the spirit of that person, which is in him? So also no one comprehends the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God. Now we have received not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might understand the things freely given us by God. And we impart this in words not taught by human wisdom but taught by the Spirit, interpreting spiritual truths to those who are spiritual…But we have the mind of Christ. ~ I Corinthians 2.11-16
May we know our own ethics and how they describe God’s reality so well as to be able to improvise our lives beautifully.
As beautifully as jazz.

Art credits: Dave Brubeck photograph by user:don’tworry; Diana Krall photograph by Rob Garland

 

Junky Art

We love a God of beauty.
Beauty
Beauty
We worship a God of art, of music, of literature.
Michelangelo's Pieta
Michelangelo’s Pieta
We serve a God of perfection.
Perfection
Perfection
We adore a God Who gives us only His best.
Samantha
God’s best
Why, oh why, then do we consistently offer Him art that is, to put it bluntly, junk?
Why do we think that music that is dull and overly simple is what is best for inspiring our hearts to worship?  Why do we think that literature that is bland and is bad storytelling will turn our minds toward thoughts of God?  Why do we think that art that is commercialized and overly sentimental will cause our imaginations to soar to the heavens?
Perhaps this is harsh.  I will fully admit that there are artists (in the full sense of the word) out there who inspire awe in the hearts of all those who come across it.  But this is not the norm.  Not anymore, that is.
It used to be that Christians artists were at the top of their craft.  They were respected and admired throughout the world.  Think Bach.  Think Correggio.  Think Milton and Tolstoy.
Correggio
Correggio
It is not this way anymore.  The secular world no longer looks up to Christian art to lead the way.  Instead it sneers at Christian art and views it as subpar, something to be shunned rather than something to inspire.
To paraphrase James: my brothers, this should not be!  The lack of excellence in our art indicates to the world that we serve a God who is less than excellent.
Much so-called religious art is in fact bad art, and therefore bad religion. ~ Madeleine L’Engle
Oh, we could do so much better.  We could open ourselves up to the power of the Holy Spirit rather than to the power of the market.
Fellow artists, let God inspire you.  Open yourself to that which you cannot control.  Ignore the sale; ignore what you think people want.  Listen instead to the Spirit.  Listen to what God is showing you through your work: “my proper place is as a servant struggling to be faithful to the work, the work which slowly and gently tries to teach me some of what it knows.” (L’Engle)
Let your art sing.  Let it soar.
Those who are not artists, be discerning.  If it is good art, if it inspires you and sets your imagination soaring toward God, then support it.  If it is bad art, don’t support and sustain it simply because it involved the name or image of Christ.
I know that my words do not reach many, but I dream of a day when those who claim to follow a God of beauty and excellence are once again those who  produce that art which leads the entire world in soaring to the heights, are once again those who produce the art which therefore points the way to God.

Searching for My Next Act of Worship

Worship is central to who we are as disciples of Christ.

Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God–this is your spiritualact of worship. ~ Romans 12.1

Our entire lives are to be acts of worship. In church and during the week, inside our homes and outside in God’s creation, serving the homeless and cleaning my toilet, I am to be offering myself to God in worship. No matter what the task.

I have written about worship here before. Worship is part of our job as priests. We are to echo the praise and adoration of all creation back to the Creator. People are the only part of creation who are able to love God back, who are able to give voice to the wordless praise of all creation.

Worship. 

My heart has been aching over this for several months now. 

A large part of who I am is a musician. Music has been a part of my identity as long as I can remember, and a huge part of that musical identity has, from as early as grade school, been to participate in leading my Family in worship to our Father.
Then I heard God ask me to give that up.

I wasn’t sure I had heard Him correctly. Isn’t this the worship He has always asked of me? To use the gift of music that He gave me to serve His people?

Though I balked, I truly did understand what God was asking of me. He was asking me to stop using my music in our church worship service in order to spend more time with my little ones.

He was asking me to give up using my music as my current act of worship.

This made my heart ache to its very core. How would I worship now? In what aspect could my life still be an act of worship?

Then I listened to a video of Sally Clarkson, from I Take Joy, talk about laying the foundation for your children, for your home. She spoke a truth that I should have understood, one that instantly shot peace through my core.

Raising my children is an act of worship. 

My whole life is to be an act of worship. If God is calling me to give up one particular way of worshiping Him, then what is to take its place? 

Being with my little ones.

I breathe and think through this a little more deeply.

God gave me these babies. He gaveme these babies and asked me to raise them into people who bear His image.

Sons are a heritage from the LORD, children a reward from him. ~ Psalms 127.3

Fix these words of mine in your hearts and minds; tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. Teach them to your children, talking about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates… ~ Deuteronomy 11.18-20

Aha.

My children are a gift to me and my husband, primarily to me and my husband. Our most precious task right now is fixing God’s Words in their hearts, setting them on the doorframes and gates of our home.

Raising my little ones is my current act of worship.

Suddenly, my heart is filled with peace and joy. 

No more aching, only a sense of gratitude that God has given me such a beautiful way to worship Him. 

I am filled with a sense of the immensity and importance of this act of worship, filled with the urgency that nothing should stand in the way of this worship during this season of my life.

Suddenly, I am not filled with loss for the act of worship I am giving up (for the present) but am filled with contentment for the fullness of the years of worship ahead of me.

May I be intentional about building our home on His Words. May I be purposeful about fixing God’s Words in the hearts and minds of my little ones. May I throw all my being into building our home on Christ Himself. May I let no other good thing distract me from this beautiful worship, from this making our lives sacred.

This. This is my living sacrifice, my sacrifice of praise. In this breathtaking and wondrous season of my life, this is my spiritual act of worship.

To Voice Creation’s Praise



I am a musician.


There are, of course, many other words that could be used to describe me, but this word is one that I have claimed for more than twenty years.

I am a Christian.

This word is also one that I have claimed for more than twenty years.

It seems odd, then, that I have never really put these two words together. Oh, I play piano and sing in the praise band at church, and in that way have put these two identities together.  

What I mean, though, is that I have never really thought deeply about the theology of music. I have never thought about how music, all of the arts really, fits in with God’s creation and with His kingdom.


I have never considered how music as an art points to God.

I am a reader.


I have been reading a book called Resounding Truth by Jeremy Begbie. It has for a subtitle: Christian Wisdom in the World of Music. 

I’ve referenced this book before in previous essays (here, here and here) because I have been challenged in many ways while reading this book. May I share with you some of the other things I have learned, some of the beauty that has struck me?

Music is a part of this created world. Obvious? Perhaps, but many would argue that music is a purely human enterprise rather than “tuning into and respectfully developing an order we inhabit as bodily creatures”. 


The materials we use to produce sounds (both instruments and vocal chords), the sound waves themselves, our bodies (both in producing sounds and in being able to hear sounds), and even time are all things that already exist, created by God, with which we are allowed to join. 



If, by making music, we are tuning in to something that has already been created, perhaps music is able to “elicit something of the character of the cosmos and through that testify to the Creator”. As well as declaring the glory of God, perhaps music (all of the arts, really!) “through the Spirit, (is) capable of granting glimpses of eternal beauty and as such can anticipate and give a foretaste of the transfiguration of the cosmos”, that moment when all of creation will be made perfect. 


What grace! What a gift!


We should be awe-filled and grateful for the very possibility of music. 
It will mean regularly allowing a piece of music to stop us in our tracks and make us grateful that there is a world where music can occur, that there is a reality we call “matter” that oscillates and resonates, that there is sound, that there is rhythm built into the fabric of the world, that there is the miracle of the human body… 

None of this had to exist, but it does, for the glory of God and for our flourishing. 



As I think about this theology of music, it draws me to the essential habit of gratitude. 

Giving thanks is the way into joy. ~ Ann Voskamp in One Thousand Gifts

Paul says in Philippians 4 to not be anxious but rather to give everything to God with thanksgiving and in return, God will give you the gift of peace.  


It seems almost ludicrous now, but before reading this book I had never thought through what music can teach us about God. How could I have gone so long without thinking through the implications of this art that I practice? Perhaps this is something that the rest of you have put together long before now, but I am a little slow at times.


I have already, in a previous essay, discussed what music teaches us about the goodness of time, the goodness of delay. Music also teaches us that tension is not bad, that by not trying to skip over days with 

dark shadows and turns, we allow ourselves to be led far more profoundly into the story’s sense and power. Music is remarkably instructive here, because more than any other art form, it teaches us how not to rush over tension, how to find joy and fulfillment through a temporal movement that includes struggles, clashes and fractures.



Music gives us a beautiful picture of the Trinity: If I play a chord, three notes on the piano, each note fills up all of my heard space, the entirety of my aural space, yet I hear the notes as distinct from each other. 

The notes interpenetrate, occupy the same heard space, but I can hear them as (three) notes…What could be more apt than to speak of the Trinity as a three-note chord, a resonance of life; Father, Son, and Spirit mutually indwelling, without mutual exclusion, and yet without merger, each occupying the same space, ‘sounding through’ one another, yet irreducibly distinct, reciprocally enhancing, and establishing one another as one another?

Music also gives us a beautiful picture of our freedom in Christ: If I play one note on the piano while silently depressing the key an octave above in order to open up the string, the upper string will vibrate even though it has not been struck. The lower string sets off the upper, and the more the lower string sounds, the more the upper string sounds in its distinctiveness. Do you see where this is going? 

The more God is involved in our lives, the freer we shall be, liberated to be the distinctive persons we were created to be. And such is the freedom we can share, by virtue of God’s gift of freedom, with others. Simultaneously sounding notes, and the music arising from them, can witness to a form of togetherness in which there is an overlap of spaces out of which come mutual enrichment and enhancement, and a form of togetherness that can be sensed first and foremost as a gift, not as a consequence of individual choices.

Oh, there is so much more I wish I could discuss with you: How music teaches us about how the love of God can be our cantus firmus around which the other melodies of life provide their counterpoint. How it teaches us to read Scripture on many different levels and view our lives as part of a “multileveled hope that covers a huge range of timescales”. How music shows us that delay teaches us something new “of incalculable value that cannot be learned in any other way”.



Ah, but I will restrain. This is becoming too long already.


May I close with a challenge for us as the Church? A challenge for musicians and non-musicians alike?


We seem to have an intense musical conservatism in contemporary worship music. 

Granting that simple songs have their place,…one would have hoped that a movement that can put such weight on the Holy Spirit’s renewal could generate somewhat more adventurous material…Is the church prepared to give its musicians room to experiment (and fail), to juxtapose different styles…to resist the tendency to rely on formulas that ‘work’ with minimum effort…in order that congregational worship can become…more true to the God who has given us such abundant potential for developing fresh musical sounds? 



Could we, as a church, consider music (as well as all of the arts) as something that can glorify God without having an evangelical message tagged on to it, simply by having artistic excellence?



I would love to hear from artists who practice in other arenas. What theology do you find in your particular art form? What about non-artists? Do you see God in any particular form of art?


I’ll end with one last quote and a poem: 
We who have misdirected our praise have been invited, against every expectation and everything we deserve, to step back into that role intended for us, to voice creation’s praise to the resounding glory of the Creator, and to witness wonders beyond imagining in our own lives and the lives of others.



Since I am coming to that holy room,
Where, with thy choir of saints for evermore,
I shall be made thy music; as I come
I tune the instrument here at the door,
And what I must do then, think here before.
~ Hymn to God My God, in My Sickness by John Donne




~ If you are receiving this in your email, may I suggest that you go to the website to better view the videos and hear the music?
~ all quotes, unless otherwise specified, are from Resounding Truth
~ photo credits: Street Musician; Dublin Philharmonic Orchestra

The Goodness of Time

I sit with my sweet sister, my brother’s wife, this 26-year-old mommy of a 16-month old, watching her life ebb away. She has fought hard for her husband and son, fought hard against this cancer that is quickly overtaking her lungs, her bones, her eyes, her brain. 


We now want her to just rest.


Cancer.


Such a hideous piece of this broken world. This broken world that can yet be so beautiful.

Why does God allow things to go on the way that they are? If He knew ahead of time the brokenness, the fallenness, the sin of this world, why begin? If He knew He would have to send the flood, send His Son, why create at all?

I have been wondering for a long time.

I don’t have any answers, just a few “perhaps’”.

Perhaps, just perhaps, it was the only way.

If God created with a purpose, a future purpose as well as a present purpose, perhaps this brokenness is the only way to reach that future goal.

My mind protests.

If He is God, can’t He create a world that has already reached that goal? Can’t He do anything?

I think it through.

Yes, He can do anything. Anything, that is, which is not nonsense, not just silly.

Perhaps, just perhaps, creating a world that has instantly reached God’s future purpose is as silly, as nonsensical, as creating a round square, a four-sided triangle, a circle with corners.

Perhaps the journey is essential to the goal.

I wonder and ponder for several days as I go about my daily work.

Then I receive a gift from my family: a bit of time alone.


That is when I read this:


Music challenges the belief that the longer something takes, the worse it will be…Music, in a very concentrated way, tells us that something can take time AND be good. Music takes time to be what it is, and as such can be glorious. It can remind us that it is not a failing of the created world that it reaches its fulfillment only through time. This is part of the way God made things. The created world takes time to be what it is. ~ Begbie, Resounding Truth

Ah.

Why DO we persist in thinking that God’s delay in coming and making all things perfect is a bad thing, that somehow He is impatiently waiting for something to happen so that He can be allowed to return?
IF (this is, don’t forget, just an “if”) all of this brokenness, all of this fallen-ness is essential to bringing about the new earth in which:

the dwelling of God is with men, and He will live with them. They will be His people, and God Himself will be with them and be their God…It (Jerusalem) shone with the glory of God, and its brilliance was like that of a very precious jewel, like a jasper, clear as crystal. ~ Revelation 21.3,11



THEN
Let us:

Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! … Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. ~ Philippians 4.4-6

I don’t mean that we shouldn’t long for Christ’s return, wait anxiously for all to be set right again. The Bible is clear that we should yearn for the day when we shall see God.

And God’s delay, these thousands of years between the beginning and the end, is a gift, not a curse.

I don’t pretend to understand how. So much of this world seems so bad to me. We probably won’t understand until the end.

We must, however, give thanks and know that time is a gift and is part of the way God made things. This middle of the story is what moves us from the beginning to the beautiful, glorious end.


The created world takes time to be what it is.


Thank You, Lord God, for doing whatever it takes to carry all of creation into its glorious end…which is, after all, only the beginning.

credit/source/copyright for the last two pictures: New Jerusalem and New Earth