Thursday, 8 December 2011

God and Music: A Theological Thought

So, this is a paper I wrote for theology class last year and my fiance reminded me of it today. As I read through it, I realized how proud I was of it. I tried to put it on Facebook but that didn't work, and then I remembered: hey! I have a blog! This is the kind of writing that I like to do - if only all assignments were like this... So here it is...


As a child and adolescent, I took piano lessons. Although for many years, I had no interest in actually practicing or playing, eventually my attitude toward the music changed and I began to realize my appreciation for the beautiful sounds that my fingers could create when I took the time to do the work. As I have continued to grow older, my appreciation for music in general has only developed more and at this point in time I have more than ten days worth of music in my iTunes. How does one even describe music? I am reminded here of the lyrics of Abba. Although amongst music circles, Abba is generally regarded with a scoff, the words of their song “Thank You for the Music” describe music, I think, perfectly: “Thank you for the music, the songs I’m singing; thanks for all the joy they’re bringing. Who can live without it, I ask in all honesty? What would life be? Without a song or a dance, what are we?” 

The song asks in the second verse where music began, and while I know that the answer to that question is that it began with God, I have to wonder why he created music. What did he hope to show the world through it? How does music reflect God’s relationship with the world? Being instructed to listen to classical music, jazz, and one other genre, I picked some Bach (perhaps my favorite classical composer), Louis Armstrong (one of the world’s most well-known jazz artists), and JJ Heller (a young folk artist who has only come into the music scene a few years ago). 

As said, I took piano lessons for many years, and the more I enjoyed them, the more I enjoyed playing Bach. His music is rather difficult; in fact, my teacher said that people rarely choose to play his music, which is perhaps why I enjoyed it so much. Bach fills his music with fast scale-oriented notes, and there are many, many notes. His music possesses a grandeur that can take my breath away. When I am listening to a beautiful concerto or suite, I want to close my eyes and lose myself in the beauty that I hear. There is structure, but the structure only adds to the majesty of the music. At the moment Bach’s “Suite For Orchestra No. 3, In D Major” is playing, and if I were a bird, I would be soaring. It is captivating as the many instruments play together in perfect unison. These things I also see in God; when God reveals himself to the world - to those who have eyes to see him - his grandeur, his majesty is revealed in the mountains, stretching to meet the heavens or in the stars as they dot the inky, black night! In such a setting, I simply want to lose myself, captivated by God’s greatness, but is his interaction with human’s structured? Seeing God as a great composer, commanding the world to move in a certain way, to play his song a certain way does not seem to reflect what I know of him. It seems to lack the freedom; classical music - though absolutely beautiful - fits inside a box, and God definitely does not fit inside a box!

Although classical music reflects God’s magnificence and awe-inspiring beauty, and while God’s interaction with the world is perhaps quite detailed, I found that I did not see classical music as the best representation of God’s relationship with the world. Moving to jazz, to Louis Armstrong, I found a whole new world. In a place of improvisation, of seven-step chords instead of octaves, of a bit of rebellion and a bit of something unusual, my feet began to tap and my body began to move along with the music almost instinctively. Saxophone solos and deep, lusty voices singing danced through my ears into my mind, stimulating my senses in a whole new way. In my thoughts, I pictured God along with the music, watching the world not from above, but dipping into our planet, into our existence to dance, to move with his world. I saw joy on his face as he swung us along in a great dance toward his Kingdom. In a way, I pictured him as an artist, painting a picture with everything that happened in the world, filling his brush with colors that seemingly clashed separately, only to fit together perfectly, spontaneously sweeping great strokes of color across the canvas that is the world. There is an intimacy in jazz, that I recognize in God; an intimacy that speaks of how close he is to us, but at the same time, is my image of God as a spontaneous, all-over-the-place painter correct? Is there maybe too much insanity in jazz for it to reflect God perfectly?

Feeling dissatisfied with jazz as perfectly describing God’s relationship with the world, I move to JJ Heller, to the relaxed, acoustic folk. The music has a simplicity to it; instead of being filled with grandeur or spontaneity, this folk uses simple chords and fewer notes than either jazz or classical music. Even the lyrics are simple, but the simplicity brings with it peace. It is straightforward and good. Instead of feeling my body moving along to the music or my soul being swept away, my entire being is at peace while listening to this music. As my thoughts turn to God, trying to picture him interacting with the world like this acoustic folk, I can picture him walking beside the world or simply sitting with us. He has a stillness to him, the ability to calm storms and calm hearts. He brings joy with his peace and puts us at ease. However, at the same time, where is God’s majesty in this? Or his intense passion?

Looking at all three genres of music, I realize something important: all three reflect God’s interaction with the world and none of the three reflect God’s interaction with the world. God is so beyond anything human, therefore any human creation cannot present God perfectly. In the case of these three genres, there is something in all of them that depicts an aspect of God, but not one of them shows the whole picture. Together, they are able to create a better idea of who God is and how he interacts with us, but even then, it is not complete...

1 comment:

  1. i love this Chana! Thanks for sharing :)
    -Jessamy

    ReplyDelete