Wild Air

Why is Music VITAL to Faith?

August 10th, 2012

I want to share with you today some thoughts that were offered to me by my friend Ron Ferguson, who is pastor of the Winchester Friends Meeting. This is from the book A Reasonable Faith by Anthony Campolo. Ron and I had a conversation today while we were fixing his combination action, and he was kind enough to copy the pertinent pages from his copy of the book. A Reasonable Faith was published in 1983 by Word Books, and I understand that copies are rare and hard to find.

Campolo discusses what Christianity lost when it gained a rational approach to God during the Reformation.

They (the reformationists) spurred Christianity away from the religio-magical and toward the rational-moral.   They changed the emphasis of the worship service from the miracle of transubstantiation to moral-ethical sermonizing. They made Christianity more acceptable to the intellectuals of their day by constructing a doctrinally sound, rationally consistent, and respectably systematic theology.

What the reformers failed to realize is that their logical approach to Christianity and attacks on the magical traits (of Christianity) gave impetus to the rationalizing tendencies that would come to fruition in the secularism of our modern world. They should have realized that religious faith survives most easily in an environment of magic…

Herbert Marcuse had the insight that “art depicts what is absent from the world and makes us discontent with what is present.” He understood that one of the functions of art is to break the spell of a rational, one-dimensional world and turn belief in a transcendent spiritual dimension into a desperate hunger. Art, claims Marcuse, makes us aware of what has been lost in our world and stimulates a craving for that which is no more. In a society tending soward secularism, art will keep alive an appetite for the spiritual.   (emphasis added).

Thinking of this supposed dichotomy between the rational and the spiritual, I was reminded of an article by Lawrence M. Krause that appeared in Newsweek a few weeks ago.   Mr. Krause, writing about the possible discovery of the Higgs Boson (aka the “God particle”), explains,

(This discovery) brings science closer to dispensing with the need for any supernatural shenanigans all the way back to the beginning of the universe—and perhaps even before the beginning, if there was a before. The brash notion predicts an invisible field (the Higgs field) that permeates all of space and suggests that the properties of matter, and the forces that govern our existence, derive from their interaction with what otherwise seems like empty space. Had the magnitude or nature of the Higgs field been different, the properties of the universe would have been different, and we wouldn’t be here to wonder why. Moreover, a Higgs field validates the notion that seemingly empty space may contain the seeds of our existence.

If these bold, some would say arrogant, notions derive support from the remarkable results at the Large Hadron Collider, they may reinforce two potentially uncomfortable possibilities: first, that many features of our universe, including our existence, may be accidental consequences of conditions associated with the universe’s birth; and second, that creating “stuff” from “no stuff” seems to be no problem at all—everything we see could have emerged as a purposeless quantum burp in space or perhaps a quantum burp of space itself. Humans, with their remarkable tools and their remarkable brains, may have just taken a giant step toward replacing metaphysical speculation with empirically verifiable knowledge. The Higgs particle is now arguably more relevant than God.   (emphasis added)

To me, with my limited knowledge of quantum physics, and my even more limited knowledge of a limitless God, it seems that the rationality craved by the reformers and humanists of the sixteenth century may well have come full-circle, and bumped into the “magic” of earlier days.   Reading Krauss’s description of the Higgs Bosun to my wife, she commented that “that sounds a lot like  God’s job description.”   Glad I married that girl!

So what has  all this history and science to do with church music, you ask?  

Just this.    Mankind desperately needs  to bridge the gap between the rational and the spiritual (or, if you will, the “magical”).   King James knew this when he assigned the greatest writers of the day (perhaps even including William Shakespeare) to take the rational, raw translations of the  scriptures and give them the magic of poetry, leaving us with perhaps the most important  translation of the Bible in human history.   The rational  words of faith in our generation must have a magical voice – a voice that speaks to the heart as words do to the mind.

This is what we, as musicians, provide to  the worship service.   This may be why Pope Benedict XVI said in 2006, at the dedication of a pipe organ,

҉۪Music and song are more than an embellishment of worship, they are themselves part of the liturgical action.

The organ,… “transcending the merely human sphere, as all music of quality does, evokes the divine. … It is capable of echoing and expressing all the experiences of human life. The manifold possibilities of the organ in some way remind us of the immensity and the magnificence of God.”

All of us, regardless of our particular denomination or sect, must realize the awesome responsibility that has been placed upon us.   It is nothing less than to provide  a link between reason and magic – between the scientific and the Divine.

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