Music: Language of the Spirit

So then faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God. 

 ~Romans 10:17

A friend’s drawl thickens when he calls family in Texas. Another friend, far from her native Taiwan, finds a balm for homesickness in speaking mandarin with newfound friends. This is our heritage: our mother tongue sings our homecoming.  

What a wonder, this gift of language that holds community, kin and home. These things live in our song when we sing our faith together. Experience this and, even if words escape you, you’ll know in your bones that Spirit, spirit and community dwell natively in music. Experience this and you may wonder what makes music such a powerful language of faith.

This native dwelling is so well crafted that the very brick and mortar sing of its Maker. Consider a quarter note rest. Well placed at the end of a poignant phrase, it punctuates, gathers, brings the phrase to fruition and honors it in due measure. This is the rhythm of breath. This is the rhythm of Martha and Mary; of doing and being; of silence and sound. And, like Mary resting at the feet of Jesus, if we lose the flow of the song, the rest is an opportunity to right ourselves. That rest offers us a moment immersed and set apart; a space to let go a little, open up, take in and prepare ourselves for what follows. The rest is a glimpse of the longer opus of worship; it is the sanctuary ready to inhale God’s people and sing out disciples.

There is another sort of silence: the sound of a musician listening. Listening makes music a social art. Hospitality is so central to the language and art of music that its presence or absence is immediately apparent. Our quarter note rest is a hospitable moment, allowing what was just said to resonate.  What good host would cut off their guests’ sentences? Or fill every pause in the conversation with whatever is handy? A lull in the conversation could be a charged moment on the verge of a deeper conversation. A rest can carve out a space where what follows utterly belongs. Imagine: When Mary arose, she entered a space carved out by Jesus where what she did next had a place. Her still moment redefined her living.

Our quarter note rest is but one instance of how, down to its very syntax, music sings us home to God and community.

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