Words are handy tools. Without them, sermons would be short, books wouldn’t exist, and communication would be much more difficult!
The delight in a child learning words is great, partly because it ends some of the frustration of trying to figure out what the kid wants. At the other end of life, the loss of speech due to a stroke or the forgetting of too many words tends to signify a fairly debilitating loss, for one who was dependent on words for all their lives.
We depend on words for communication.
Yet communication is not dependent on words! Indeed, the best and most intimate communication tends to not need words at all. Looks and touches and being present to each other are powerful means of communication.
Western culture is too caught up in our brains, in words. There are too many talking heads walking around! We have substituted intellectualization and verbiage for communication. If the best of your relationships are those which depend on brains and words, you are missing out on some of the best of life!
This is not news; much of the world seems to know it better than we, and has throughout history. One of the best means of self-expression through time has been through music. Music is unique in the arts, in that it cannot be exactly replicated. No live piece of music is ever exactly the same twice. Even with sophisticated equipment, reproduced sound can never take the place of the experience of hearing the music performed. Music is an event, not an item. You can go back and look at a painting again, but you can never go and hear that artist play the music exactly the same again... for it is experiential.
In one way, talking about music is a fruitless effort, because the music itself is the thing. You need to experience it, to hear it, to live it, to know music.
We don’t even get through the fourth chapter of Genesis before music is discussed in Scripture. Jubal, son of Lamech, is described as the “father of all those who play the lyre and the pipe.”
Miriam led the women using songs to praise God for deliverance through the Red Sea, and praises were sung after David slew Goliath.
David used music to soothe Saul’s troubled soul, and Joshua used blasts of the shofar to claim the city of Jericho.
Stories of worship and instructions for temples always describe music as an important part of worship for the people of Israel. They were people who knew the importance of music, of dance, of non-intellectual forms of communication and celebration.
Certainly the Psalms are a musical legacy for us, written to be sung, not spoken. The psalmist wrote of the deepest feelings – of joy, of anguish, of praise, of anger, of exultation and victory, of deep depression – all expressed through music.
The New Testament speaks less often of music, but the early church is instructed to sing psalms, hymns and sacred songs.
The Spirit of God moves like a wind – rarely speaking in rational-intellectual-verbal language, but moving within and around us, like the tones of music.
Opening ourselves to music is a way of opening ourselves to God to work in new and different ways.
The Rev. Dr. Joanne Sizoo is pastor at Grace Presbyterian Church in Fort Mill, near the intersection of Hwy 160 and Gold Hill Road. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.