One of the worship practices that Smith describes in this section is song. I agree with him wholeheartedly when he describes the power of music to leave an impression on and shape us: “A song gets absorbed into our imagination in a way that mere texts rarely do. Indeed a song can come back to haunt us almost, catching us off guard or welling up within our memories because of situations or contexts that we find ourselves in, then perhaps spilling over into our mouths till we find ourselves humming a tune or quietly singing. The song can evoke a time and a place, even the smells and tastes of a moment.”
|Biola University Chorale Chicago Tour, Spring 2001|
Have you ever had that experience that he describes? I do all the time. Just about anytime I hear a familiar song I immediately associate it with the place where I first heard it. I have songs that I associate with the year 1996 (the “Macarena” and “Shine Jesus Shine” if you really want to know…), songs that take me back to the summer of 2002 when I had my first new car, songs that will forever be associated with the Ukarumpa Meeting House. I still occasionally get songs I sang in junior high choir stuck in my head for no apparent reason at all. Yes: music has a way of staying with us.
I think music has an incredible power to bond together those who make it as well. I sang in choir and did musical theatre for many, many years and had a brief stint as a voice major my first year of college (little known secrets!) – even after changing my major, I continued to sing in our college choir. 99% of the high school and college friends I am still in contact with are people that I sang with. There’s something about those experiences that bound us together in unique ways.
Some of the most powerful worship experiences I have had have been musically related too. Singing beautiful Christmas music by candlelight in a dim chapel. Hearing the harmonies of “And Can it Be” sung by a men’s ensemble in an echoing tunnel. Singing excerpts of The Messiah with a full orchestra. The sung benediction of “God Be in My Head” at the end of every choir concert for 4 years and then again at my college graduation, and then again a few years later at my wedding. More recently, joining together in a mish-mash of French and English to sing a hymn like “How Great Thou Art” or “To God Be the Glory” with our African brothers and sisters. A little foretaste of heaven, all of these things.
Music does have a tremendous sticking power, and with that comes tremendous shaping power. Which begs the question: what do we want to stick? A lot of the music that has stuck with me is good. I don’t mind it coming to mind at random moments. But there’s also a fair amount of music in there that I rather wish wasn’t. The bad sticks just as much as the good. There is a reason that Paul admonishes us “whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good repute, if there is any excellence and if anything is worthy of praise, dwell on these things.” (Philippians 4:8, NASB) There is a reason why Edith Schaeffer, in her book The Hidden Art of Homemaking, tells us that “Christian homes should not be places where nothing but a bit of sentimental or romantic music is heard, but places where there is the greatest variety of good music…” (p. 40). (As an aside, I love how Ambleside encourages this by the inclusion of Hymns, Folk Songs, and Classical Composer studies in the curriculum.) This is why we pursue Truth, Beauty, and Goodness – these are the things that we want to stick because it is the Good, True, and Beautiful that will direct our hearts towards God and His Kingdom.
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