"Though it can be written, music cannot be captured. Belonging to everything, it owns nothing. Always giving, never taking unnoticed, unexplained it benefits everyone. Music evokes what has always been, helping us come to terms with our selves." That wise observation is by John Artiz in in The Tao of Music. It catches some of the reasons why listening to music is a spiritual practice.
In the Arts section of Spirituality & Practice, we write about all kinds of music and its effects upon us: rock 'n' roll, ballads and folk songs, country music, world music, pop standards, and whatever else strikes our fancy. We are thankful for this God-given treasure-trove of music for our pleasure, edification, healing, and personal transformation.
Here's a little spiritual biography of our relationship with music.
Sometimes we've been drawn to the rhythm, specifically the primal music carried by drums. African drumming by Olatungi transported us to another world, and we understood what Gabrielle Roth wrote about in Sweat Your Prayers: "The drums kept going and so did I. I danced till I disappeared inside the dance, till there was nothing left of me but the rhythm of my breath. And in the rhythm of my breath I felt totally connected, body and soul. I finally realized what holy communion was all about."
Earlier in our lives, Frederic listened to a lot of classical music, and Mary Ann played it on her cello. Johann Wolfgang von Goethe wrote: "One ought, every day at least, to hear a little song, read a good poem, see a fine picture, and, if it were possible, to speak a few reasonable words.” We concur that it would indeed be good to hear a little Bach, or Beethoven, or Schubert every day. Classical music embraces us, and we happily recall all the years we have spent with each other.
W. A. Mathieu, a Sufi and a gifted musician, writes in The Musical Life: "You are made of music — lonely music when you are lonely, vast music when you feel vast, even happy music sometimes. The whole stream of your life, already musical, is simply waiting for you to hear it."
Since the 1960s, our main stream of music has been rock. We have been rock music devotees since the days when bands began exploring what it means to break in and to break out, to let go and kick out the james, to live in the present moment, and to make connections. Rock and pop music have offered us many opportunities to measure our experiences, take stock of our feelings, and trace the shape of our values.
Here are a few more significant points on our musical biography.
Over the years we have revered Bruce Springsteen and his inspirational anthem "Badlands" where he speaks to the rebel inside us who knows that "it ain't no sin to be glad you're alive."
We have been swept away by the sensitive folk music of Harry Chapin whose story songs touch the heart and encourage us to empathize with other people.
Bruce and Harry and many others have shown us what singer/songwriter Carole King implies on her album Simple Things: Love is the spiritual energy that can bring out the best in us.
Music is often a healing balm for those in pain, lacking in love or forgiveness, and desperate for a deeper connection with other people. In his passionate song "Music," John Miles sings: "To live without my msuic / would be impossible to do, / In this world of troubles / My music pulls me through."
When in the hospital, we have turned to music as a healing balm to ward off pain. The soul-nourishing chant arrangements of Robert Gass have served us particularly well.
At other times, we have looked for spiritual energy from music. We have expressed our devotion to God through Krishna Das' Kirtan chants. We have opened our souls to the natural world listening to the Celtic melodies of Aruna. We have felt called to personal renewal by the melodic ballads of Sandi Kimmel and spiritual anthems of Karen Drucker.
Music also reminds us of our commitments. Folksinger/songwriter Peter Seeger used music to affirm his hopes for peace, social justic, the environment, and the lifting up of those mired in poverty and powerlessness. Seeger once said in an interview: "In each of my concerts there are some old songs which you and I have sung together many times before, but which can always stand another singing. Like another sunrise, or another kiss, this also is an act of reaffirmation."
Today we turn to music of all types, styles, and time periods to serve us as a kiss across the abyss of separation. We invite you to look at some of our playlists and send us the names of songs that to you reflect the practices in the Alphabet of Spiritual Literacy. We also welcome links to YouTube music videos we can embed on the site. Let's share our music as a spiritual practice.