Greetings from the inside of the four walls of the Lee household. You are all in our prayers for health and safety.
I think we're all learning a lot about ourselves these days: our priorities, our thresholds, our needs. Some of us have much more human contact in our homes than what we are used to, and others are lonely. Some of us are busier than ever, and our jobs have become a health vulnerability, and others are bored, looking to fill the time. We are all adjusting.
After nearly a year of musical plans that did not come to fruition, I confess I am a bit numb to change, which seems to be the one constant in my life. I deeply appreciate the patience, encouragement, and flexibility of the staff, all involved in the music ministry, and this parish. Giving into defeat and despondency might have been tempting, otherwise.
And why not just make it easy? Why bother rerouting at each new challenge?
Even as a musician, I roll my eyes at the rather self-congratulatory language used to justify arts education and arts funding. It always sounds corny to me. ("Music is the language of the soul.") At the same time, my husband and I make our livings as musicians, and certainly paid a lot of money to be able and qualified to do our jobs, scholarships notwithstanding. As a military musician, Rick never questions the value and importance of his work. He and his group are frequently repaid by words and tears of gratitude. As a church musician, and the grateful recipient of many years of great church music experiences, I don't doubt the importance of my work either. But in a time like this, is it really essential?
As Christians, we look to the Bible for direction and authority. To read the volume of search results on the topic of worship music in the Bible is to be occupied for a long time. The Scripture is full from beginning to end. Music is covered in narrative, command, invitation, personal prayer, exhortation.
Interestingly, but not surprisingly, current research in neuroscience sheds some light on why music is so important to humans, and underscores the magnitude of this sacred gift. Without getting too technical, here's the Reader's Digest explanation. First, knowledge is embodied, meaning that information has to pass through the senses to be processed. While academic philosophy and colloquial usage have traditionally separated knowledge and feeling, intellect and emotion, the reality is that they are fully integrated functions of the brain. Second, we take in sensory information as it acts upon us, and understand through an "as-if," mimetic process. We entrain our thoughts to imagine ourselves as though they were engaged in what is conveyed to us sensually. This is how we understand each other socially. If I see your face fall, mine falls too, mimetically, in an effort to understand, by feeling, what it is you're feeling. Perhaps you see a pastoral or tropical landscape painting. Perhaps you imagine yourself there, but even before that, the horizontal line means rest to you, as though you were lying down, and the light colors, with smaller, shorter light rays, are easy on the eyes. In music, a rising line or high note may make you feel euphoric! Why? If you were very high, you might be floating or flying, or you might feel that you have transcended the earth, and thus your thoughts are drawn to the sacred. Thirdly, the sensory information immediately and pre-consciously makes changes in our physiology, tightening or loosening muscles, maintaining inner homeostasis in the presence of safety or danger. Fourth, and even more fascinating, is that this is a reciprocal relationship; anyone familiar with EMDR, dance therapy, yoga or similar practices, or walk and talk therapy knows that by retraining your physical reactions, you can learn to think differently and heal trauma.
When we make or listen to music, even alone, this complicated, pre-conscious process takes place in a millisecond. We take it in, and we physically entrain to it. Our physiology adapts to the sense data, whether it is exhilarating, calming, meditative, sad, or something else. Before we've even begun to make conscious associations and employ higher-level, "top-down" thoughts about interpretation, we have united empathetically with the music. This explains why we sometimes have visceral reactions we can't explain, immediately hating or rejecting some song or style. And it explains our fierce loyalty to the music we love. We've united with it in our whole being, and by extension, the others engaged in it. When the music is for worship, it becomes a prayer and a connection of our entire being to God. When we are together in corporate worship, the unity of heart and purpose is all-encompassing.
I remember having the realization at a young age that God did not have to make food (or anything else) good. It could have been some vitamin that we took to refuel. Instead, he made food a delight. He could have restricted our ability to connect with others or Him to conveyance of fact, and our relationship to Him could have been defined by duty. Instead, He gifted us with hints of His divine creativity and ways beyond our comprehension to love and be loved.
During this season of isolation, I hope you will enjoy the online musical offerings here at ctkfriendsofmusic.com; and I look forward to joining you all in worship and praise as soon as we can safely be back together.
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Director of Music and Worship, Christ the King Church Parish