Music, Liturgy & the Relief of the Soul

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Friends of Padre Steve’s Word

Something a little bit different. A while back I was asked to write and article for a periodical called “The Liturgical Singer” which is published by the That National Association of Pastoral Musicians. The article came out only in hard copy and at the request of a couple of friends I am posting it here. Have a great night.

Peace

Padre Steve+

 

“And whenever the evil spirit from God came upon Saul, David took the lyre and played it with his hand, and Saul would be relieved and feel better, and the evil spirit would depart from him.” 1 Samuel 16:23

When I was in seminary one of the most valuable courses I ever took was an introductory course in Church Music. The course opened my heart to music in the liturgical setting. Now I am not a musician, I play the radio and sing monotone. Like many pastors, priests and theologians I am a word person; written, spoken I am a word person. That being said I learned early on that music can be a balm for the wounded and suffering soul.

Sadly, I don’t think that many priests or pastors truly understand this. I am a Priest and Navy Chaplain. But, I am one of the wounded. I suffer from severe PTSD, anxiety, and more often than not I find going to church often makes things worse. As an Iraq Veteran I can somewhat relate to King Saul. Sometimes the effects of PTSD feel like an evil spirit, and when I came home from war I went through a spiritual crisis that was so bad that for nearly two years I was for all practical purposes an agnostic hoping that God still existed.

Hans Christian Anderson wrote that “Where words fail, music speaks.” All too often our worship, even in liturgical churches focuses more on words, than it does the healing property of music.

Those who suffer from trauma of any kind, including PTSD, or who suffer from anxiety, depression or other afflictions of the soul don’t usually come to church to see a show or to get yet another self-help lecture baptized with a few selected Bible verses. They don’t come to be entertained. They come for solace, they come to encounter God as do most regular churchgoers. But a recent Barna survey noted that less than 20% of regular churchgoers feel close to God on even a monthly basis. Martin Luther, who suffered from tremendous depression and despair for much of his life wrote “My heart, which is so full to overflowing, has often been solaced and refreshed by music when sick and weary.”

One has to ask why this is. I think one reason is that in many churches, even liturgical churches music has become entertainment. While this is pervasive in our American church culture it is not new. Erasmus of Rotterdam wrote:

“We have brought into our churches certain operatic and theatrical music; such a confused, disorderly chattering of some words as I hardly think was ever in any of the Grecian or Roman theatres. The church rings with the noise of trumpets, pipes, and dulcimers; and human voices strive to bear their part with them….”

As entertain it really is no longer part of liturgy, which is by definition the work of the people. I think the type or style of music is less important than the message that it conveys. I honestly believe different types of music touch our soul in different ways. That being said I think that the message of the music should lead people into the presence of God and to do that church music directors and liturgists need to back off of the culture of entertainment that has invaded the Church. I can say that there are songs, hymns and psalms of almost every musical style which reside in my heart. In the midst of my spiritual crisis I found that some of these songs stayed with me. One verse of Abide With Me was one of my prayers during that time:

Come not in terrors, as the King of kings, But kind and good, with healing in Thy wings, Tears for all woes, a heart for every plea— Come, Friend of sinners, and thus abide with me.

I have found that when a liturgist leads a people into the presence of God it is that the songs, hymns and songs they use actually allow the people to participate in the liturgy. The songs speak of God’s presence even in the midst of suffering, they allow those who suffer a measure of hope, even in the midst of what St. John of the Cross referred to as “the dark night of the soul.” When this happens the music becomes part of the participant’s experience of God, it takes up residence in the depth of the soul and there it remains reminding the person that they are not alone. Percy Bysshe Shelley wrote that “Music, when soft voices die, vibrates in the memory.”

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Filed under christian life, faith, ministry, music, PTSD

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