Friday, March 11, 2011

Music - Majesty and Mystery

     As a child, I paid little attention to music other than enjoying listening to it.  I had no interest in actually singing or playing, believing that sports were a far more worthwhile endeavor for a young man.  During my senior year in high school, however, I bought a harmonica.  With the instrument came instructions for how to play "On Top Of Old Smoky."  I spent several days learning how the play the song, and upon doing so, I discovered a surprising thing: after learning to play Old Smoky, I found I could play any song within the range of the harmonica's notes.
    At the time, I thought this to be a magical thing, and that the song must be some sort of foundational piece of music that somehow served as the universal hub for all melody.  "Wow," I thought, "If you learn 'On Top of Old Smoky,' you can play anything!" 
     Many years would pass before I discovered that actually I possess what some call an an ear for music.  I started playing the guitar in my late 20s, the piano in my early 30s, and found that both instruments were like the harmonica: after a brief time of learning, I found myself able to play many songs and pieces of music with little or no practice or instruction.
    I do not understand this.  I am very grateful for it, of course, and as our ministry has developed over the years, it is a great advantage to be able to play, sing and lead music in our services before preaching.  This is especially wonderful because Frances is an amazing harmony singer, as many of you know.  Singing with her is sublime, and often I want to simply stop and listen to her (but you do need a melody, I suppose!).  It's a great blessing in every sense, and while it makes sense that the Lord would have given a gift that complements the ministry to which He has called us, I nevertheless remain amazed and bewildered by it (which leads to the point of these thoughts).
     I believe music to be one of the greatest evidences in creation that God exists, and that He is dynamically involved in human affairs.  Indeed, humanity could not have created music.  It is far too beautiful, complex, artistic, technical and vast in its scope to have issued forth from the brain of man.  Music is much like God Himself.  The more you know of it and experience it, the more you realize that the journey has just begun.  Bach and Mozart felt this way, as does every master musician whose exploration of music reveals that the further one journeys into its depths, the more one realizes the journey has just begun.  Even more, the believer whose heart is illuminated by some glorious glimpse of the infinite God also finds himself blinded by a Light too bright to look upon for more than the briefest gaze.  Indeed, the more we know of Him, the more we realize how little we know.
    I once heard a popular musician say that his favorite thing about writing a song was that it brought something into being that had not existed before.  I don't think this is true.  No, I think that truly beautiful music somehow exists in the heart and mind of the Lord before it exists in the heart and mind of man.  In a sense, the composer or songwriter "hears" the music first, and then uses his gift and ability to translate his experience to others.  There's much mystery in this, of course, but the Bible clearly proclaims a musical God who declares in His Word that He will Himself "rejoice over thee with singing" (Zephaniah 3:17).  Now that is the song I look forward to hearing, the joyous expression of the Lord Jesus Christ, the maker of melody, harmony, rhythm and the majesty and mystery that is music.
"The Lord is my strength and song."
(Psalm 118:14)

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