SILENCE AND MUSIC
Have you ever had those moments when it’s like God hits you in the head and dots that were seemingly disconnected all line up? For me it came through a class, a funeral, and a few simple words at a conference and it all surrounded music.
I’m a silence girl. I am perfectly happy to drive, work, and do chores surrounded my quiet. Maybe that says something about how much I’m in my head, but I like silence. It’s not distracting, allows me to think, and helps me hear. Maybe it’s also because music is important to me, I feel things before I think them. When music’s on, I have to listen. It actually distracts me if it’s in the background during a talk or if I’m studying. Music can bring me to tears, cause a smile, make me dance, or fill me to overflowing. For others; music is foundational. My husband listens to music all the time, it’s always on, always shuffling. Even as I write this, my husband has his music going as he works. Yet, he only sings once a week – on Sunday mornings.
At the church I serve, we get feedback, almost constantly, about music. It is easily the biggest feedback we receive both positive and negative. Why? I’m sure there’s lots of reasons but I think it’s mostly because music is personal.
There are so many genres, sub-genres, and opinions about music. I’m amazed by the eclectic playlists I see today. Kansas, Queen, and Journey are played right alongside Beyoncé and Jesus Culture. There are multiple playlists for different kinds of days, moments, and people. Music moves us, revives us, and touches our hearts. It can be so full of fun and also bring tears. In student ministry, we’ve used music to set the tone on mission trips, instill energy at a retreat, and create space for worship.
Recently, I was teaching a class about women in the middle ages. In the 12th century, there was a nun named Hildegard van Bingen. I’m sure you’ve never heard of her, but she wrote over 70 songs so that people could experience a new form of worship. She’s actually on YouTube and Spotify. You can listen of a few of her songs here: Listen Here She believed music helped people worship, you can feel a sense of holiness as you listen.
In the 15th century, a man named Martin Luther nailed his thesis to a church door and changed church history but you may not know that he also introduced congregational singing. He believed that it was through music that people would learn theology as music made its way to their hearts. He knew that by singing the songs, people would not only share in worship but would learn the tenets of faith.
In the 1700s, Charles Wesley continued this thought as he penned more than 6,000 songs to help the masses learn Scripture and its teaching. You most likely sang one of his songs at Christmas time – Hark the Herald Angels Sing.
The point behind all this was that their audiences were mostly illiterate. As a whole, the masses couldn’t read. In Hildegard’s time, only the wealthy could read – even women within the aristocracy were illiterate for the most part. For Luther, he knew that along with illiteracy, the masses didn’t have a Bible of their own to read but they could sing Scripture. For Wesley, it was using melodies many knew to help them know the God they did not. They each used this medium to spread the gospel in a new way for their time. They knew music helped faith become personal.
At the funeral for my uncle last month, we sang hymns in a packed out sanctuary. No lights, no band, no reverb. The familiar lines of hymns I sang as a child and teen, words of Scripture, felt like home. The voices were so loud, praising God in the grief of loss yet also the hope that knowing Jesus brings. And as we sang, I watched as those who built this legacy of faith raised their 80 year old hands in praise – such holy moment of worship. As we sang How Great Thou Art, originally written in 1885, tears came. Hymns so rich in language and theology, wonderfully familiar and still so true today. ( listen to Carrie Underwood’s rendition)
When Christ shall come with shout of acclamation
And take me home, what joy shall fill my heart!
Then I shall bow in humble adoration,
And there proclaim, my God, how great Thou art!
The music of the 12th century may not be your jam, but it created an avenue for people to learn of Jesus and believe in him. The hymns of Charles Wesley may not be on your playlist but they gave those who couldn’t read the Bible a way to know God and share him. Hillsong United might not be familiar (check this 0ut: What a Beautiful Name ), but for many they help articulate hearts in worship. I’ve been a part of the church since, well, since I was teeny tiny. I’ve been blessed by hymns, choruses, litanies, and all out rock and roll songs about Jesus. For me, all have value. It’s through music that our little ones learn their A,B,Cs…and that Jesus loves them. It’s through music that students express themselves. Thank the Lord that there are so many ways to worship, so many different opportunities to share his word.
Today almost everyone has the opportunity to learn how to read and the Bible is available across the globe. Yet so many are biblically illiterate and need to learn of Jesus through music. Music is one of those things that crosses language barriers and cultures. Recently at a campference, the worship leader reminded us that worship through music helps us invite Jesus into our space and focuses us. As she said this, I was reminded of Hildegard as she brought the sweet sound of the choir. Of Luther and Wesley and their desire to share the good news of Jesus. Of my extended family and friends that came together to celebrate life through remembering the wonder of God. Dots connected.
When God connected the dots of my past month or so through music, I realized how blessed I am to be able to enjoy so many kinds of music that point to Jesus. The holy sounds of a 12th century choir, the hymns that grounded my faith, and the loud expressive songs of worship at the campference all filled my heart in unique and needed ways. Jesus meet me in every one.
In our current culture, music shifts much more quickly through what’s ‘in’ and ‘out’. In the church world, I hear the words ‘that’s too old’, or ‘it’s not fresh anymore’ when referring to certain songs. I’m sure Luther and Hildegard’s music went through the same transition. The eclectic playlists we listen to have become a part of our worship.
Why write all this?
Because although I do love the quiet, I’m incredibly grateful for music.
Because when I read the feedback on music, I’m reminded how personally we take musical choices.
Because, I recently heard a conversation about a song becoming irrelevant and thought – can a song of the truth of Christ ever be irrelevant? Old, sure. Irrelevant, never.
Because as God connected the music dots for me, he reminded me how blessed I am to be a part of so many gatherings where worship is celebrated in different ways.
And, because maybe, when you’re at a gathering where worship music is played that isn’t your taste (music is personal – I know), you’ll remember that the song was written to help someone find Jesus.
May we celebrate the differences in music that allow others learn of faith and truth. And…if you want a new music experience, grab a cup of coffee and play Hildegard’s music. You might be surprised at how 12th century worship affects your heart.