Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Music: A Sound Theology

"When you think about Jesus, what images come to mind?" my professor asked. We respond: "Jesus and the children, Jesus teaching, healing, Jesus on the cross, Jesus as a baby..." He continued, "Can you think of anywhere in the scriptures of images of Jesus singing?" He went on to explain that Jesus, throughout the Gospels quotes from the book of Psalms. The thing about Psalms is that they were always sung, that's what made them so powerful and so...catchy.

So with this new image of Jesus the crooner in your mind, I would like to build on that and think about Jesus/Father/Spirit as the great Trio (trinity) of singers. The word for word in the New Testament is translated from Logos. The trouble with Logos is that it just doesn't find its equal in English. It can mean story, speech, saying, voice or any combination thereof. "In the beginning was the voice/storyteller/singer..." (John 1:1 BTV). I love C.S. Lewis' retelling of the creation story in the Narnia series when Aslan sings creation into existence. Not being able to shake that image, I always read the Genesis creation poem with similar images - God speaking and singing and matter and life taking form and springing up and each of those created things impacted and packed with God's song. As an aside: I find it fascinating that physicists who are trying to find a unifying theory of existence, are saying that the basic reality of the universe is vibration, or sound, or dare I say...music. 21st century physicists are starting to sound a lot like ancient Hebrew poets.

Music is weird. It's like this universal language. Babies cry when they hear certain chord progressions like C to F Sharp and they smile when they hear G, C, D. In fact almost every popular song for the past 40 years has used the same 4-chord progression. For hilarious medley of Axis of Awesome check out http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QpB_40hYjXU

There is no "science" exactly behind music. Sure there's plenty of theory. But I am convinced that the theory came after enough people kind of intuitively heard something or tried something and said, "yeah, that works."
The more I think about it the more I have come to believe that the best images for Christianity are musical. Jesus came to help us live in tune with the Spirit, to give us this divine tuning fork to know when we are off key or out of tune. Being in Harmony with the Spirit means that I can still contribute my own unique voice to this song called life, called creation, but that all of life is communal and complimentary to the Spirit's rhythms and melodies. Can you think of any other image that can say all that?

At one time in my life I was in three Choirs (this is before Glee made choirs cool) - jazz choir, concert choir, and church choir. Jazz choir was by far my favorite. What I liked about Jazz choir is that getting it right had less to do with technical details and more about finding a groove. On the flip side, you could sing a song technically correct and still sing it all wrong. Or in Jazz Choir Language: "It don't mean a thing if it ain't got that swing...do-wah, do-wah, do-wah..." The most important thing is listening, to one another and responding to one another finding that right groove.

In the Hebrew language the word for hear is deeper than just listening. It is an active and dynamic listening-and-responding. hearing-heeding. The two ideas can't be separated. It's like harmony. And this kind of harmony isn't always holding-hands-singing-Kumbaya. Sometimes it is powerful. It can have shaking and quaking (wink) and kingdom in-breaking results. Sometimes when sound resonates it is beautiful - like when I put new strings on my guitar and tune it perfectly and I play a G chord and ahh... it just hums. Sometimes when sound resonates it is powerful - like when an opera singer or amateur (see link) http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ofESdVdX-fY resonates with the frequency of a wine glass and shatters it.

Harmony is such a great metaphor for discipleship, (being a Christian, following Jesus) because it communicates this dynamic, active, listening and aligning relationship and allows for a unity and diversity tension. The truth is if my whole goal in life is to be life Jesus A) What does that even mean, like do I need to wear sandals and move to North Israel and B) What a depressing life goal. It's like one of those work your whole life and get 30% of the way there kind of goals. I know that I will never be Jesus. But if being like Jesus means to be in Harmony with the Spirit like Jesus was, then ahhh, I can do that. In fact I can do that in my own special ways better than any one else can. And the same is true about you. Like Dr. Suess says, "Today you are you, that is truer than true. There is no one alive who is youer than you."

*Some ideas shamelessly stolen from Nudge


  1. I really appreciate this post. I've never really thought of it quite like this, but I've always known that there is really something special in music...I really really really love the imagery of C.S. Lewis and Aslan singing the world into creation.

  2. Thanks Justin. Hope this was helpful. I think any images and metaphors that help us imagine a more dynamic, engaging, partnering relationship with God will hope us avoid stuck-ness and embrace the life that is really life.