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

My Default

“Stop!” I yell. “Just stop it!”

My eldest runs sobbing down the hallway to her room, fleeing the unholy wrath of her mommy.


I watch her go. My head slumps and my heart breaks. I did it again.

Hurled anger at one of those I love most rather than gently bearing love.

Why do I do this? Why do I consistently make wrong choices? Why is it so hard to choose the right way?

How can I read God’s words of love to me, His child, and then turn around and choose to offer anger to my own children?

And it is a choice. Ann Voskamp, in One Thousand Gifts, says:

Do I really smother my own joy because I believe that anger achieves more than love? That Satan’s way is more powerful, more practical, more fulfilling in my daily life than Jesus’ way? Why else get angry? Isn’t it because I think complaining, exasperation, resentment will pound me up into the full life I really want?

I’m a curious learner and I want to know why.

Why does my nature seem stuck in a default of sin? Why am I so easily led into believing that Satan’s way is more fulfilling than Jesus’ way?

Why is it easier to believe Satan than God?

I ask our pastor and he points me to Romans 5:

Therefore, just as sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all men, because all sinned…

So because of Adam, I really do start life with a disadvantage, with a default of disobedience? How is this fair?

Again, Pastor, in his letter, offers a way to understand:

God chose Adam as our representative, just as we choose our representatives in government. Just as we are bound by what our congressmen sign in our names, so we are bound by what Adam did for all of humanity.

I stop reading. I am still not liking this. Did God choose poorly? I didn’t get to vote on who represented me in this matter of sin and death!

Reluctantly, I keep reading and Pastor points me to the rest of Romans 5:

…if the many died by the trespass of the one man, how much more did God’s grace and the gift that came by the grace of the one man, Jesus Christ, overflow to the many! … how much more will those who receive…the gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man, Jesus Christ … so also through the obedience of the one man, the many will be made righteous.

how much more


through Jesus Christ

Yes, God chose Adam as our representative. For all I would like to blame him, I know that no other human would have done any better.
And God chose Jesus as our representative! We are not simply restored to our own faulty, pitiful righteousness, we are raised up to Christ’s righteousness!

What a gift. What grace.

When we say “yes” to Jesus, our old nature is gone and we are a new creation (2 Cor 5).


Why do I still find it difficult to obey? Why do I still choose anger rather than love?

Because I forget. I do not steep myself in Jesus. I do not surround myself with His words. I do not ask Him to change my heart.


I will continue to ask. I will find more ways to hide His words in my heart and let Him change me.

When I forget, I will ask again for grace.

I walk to her room and hold her close. I wipe away her tears and ask her to forgive me.

She nestles in close to my heart and I breathe thanks for this grace, this gift of a child who is able to offer God’s grace to a weak Mommy.


A mommy who chooses, at this moment, to offer words of love.

Source/credit for paintings: Creation of Adam by Michelangelo; Christ of Santa Maria sopra Minerva by Michelangelo

Poor Expectations

“Ten more minutes and then it’s time to go home.”

Silence.

“When I say ‘it’s time’, what will you say?”

(shouted in a happy voice) “Yes ma’am!”

“Good girl.”

I’ve learned the hard way that if my eldest girl is expecting to stay at the park and I suddenly pronounce now to be the time to go home, meltdowns and tantrums ensue.

If, however, I give her warning and help her to rehearse what is coming, peace and joy are retained. Mostly.

Expectations.

Just as they color the relationship between my eldest and me, they determine the state of my relationship with God.

As I wrestle with this cancer that is threatening to overtake my sister, my brother’s wife, this 26-year-old mommy of a 15-month old, I am forced to look hard at what I expect from God.

I expect to grow old with my love. I expect to watch my children grow up. I expect to meet my grandchildren, my great-grandchildren. I expect that my parents will dance at their grandchildren’s weddings. I expect good health and more than enough to live.

This is what I dare to say I think I deserve.

When I, or those I love, don’t get what I expect, I am left with anger and resentment.

I am reading One Thousand Gifts: “Expectations kill relationships – especially with God…Is it only when our lives are emptied that we’re surprised by how truly full our lives were? Instead of filling with expectations, the joy-filled expect nothing – and are filled. This breath! This oak tree! This daisy! This work! This sky! These people! This place! This day! Surprise!…Are there times that a sense of entitlement – expectations – is what inflates self, detonates anger, offends God, extinguishes joy? And what do I really deserve? Thankfully, God never gives what is deserved, but instead, God graciously, passionately offers gifts, our bodies, our time, our very lives. “

The idea leaves me whirling. Can I truly live like that? Can I be grateful for every moment that I have with my family, knowing that each moment is a gift, something that I don’t deserve? Can I live grateful for every small gift that God gives?


Can I live without expecting God to give the gifts I think He should give?

I ponder this thought throughout my next days.

Then I see it. I see it in a passage that I have read so many times that I now tend to skim.

Not only so, but we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us. You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. ~Rom. 5.3-6

Yes, I know. Suffering produces hope.

Wait.

A niggling in the back of my brain stirs up the idea of a meaning behind hope. I go to my Strong’s.

The word translated “hope” is from elpis (elpizo or elpo): to expect, to anticipate (usually with pleasure), expectation or confidence.

Suffering produces confidence, expectation, because of God pouring out His love, because of Christ dying for a sinner. For me.

My heart longs for more and so I search.

How great is the love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are! The reason the world does not know us is that it did not know him. Dear friends, now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known. But we know that when he appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is. Everyone who has this hope in him purifies himself, just as he is pure. ~I John 3.1-3

This hope. The same word. Elpis. Expectation.

Expectation of lavish love, of being made children of God. Expectation of knowing, seeing and being made like God. Expectation.

This. This is what I should expect from God.

I weep, ashamed that I demand such small things from God, ashamed that I expect such fleeting gifts when He is promising such riches, such beauty.

Living without expectations.

I will try. I will try to be surprised by every gift that God decides to give, knowing that He has already given me the most beautiful and exciting gift of all.

Road to Emmaus.
Luke 24.