Music: God’s Arrow to the Heart

Most of my articles here at New Evangelizers have focused on apologetics: giving a logical and systematic defense and explanation of the faith.  As a religion teacher, this has been the focus of my career, to remove the intellectual obstacles that my students have to understanding the Lord.

“Why is there a hell?”  “Why do we have to go to Mass?”  “How can we trust the Bible?”

Most of my efforts involves laying out the evidence and giving evidential or logical proofs for our beliefs.  And I know that this is a proper thing to do because, as St. Thomas Aquinas constantly emphasized, our faith is rational.  God is the author of Reason, and so Reason should give light to the Lord.

But, of course, we are more than rationality.  We are not like Mr. Spock, devoid of all but logic.  Christ does not only appeal to the mind, but to the heart.  Most of our great conversions to the Lord might begin with reason.  But the final push is almost always involves a metanoia or change of heart.  We need the Holy Spirit to come into our hearts and light a fire.

But like any fire, it has to be fueled, stoked, and enkindled.  And there are few way better to do this than music.

Here at New Evangelizers, Luciano Corbo wrote about he was caught up in a song and it filled him with exhilaration.  When he looked up the lyrics, he felt sick.

The popular culture understands that music is a shortcut around our rational minds and it hits us directly in the heart.  Music makes us feel.  And a powerful piece of music can smuggle in pernitious ideas into our minds because we move seamlessly from the enjoyment of the sound to enjoyment of the idea.

I am not saying that listening to one song with a bad message will brainwash you.  But constant repetition of these ideas chased down by exciting music will influence how we think and more importantly for this discussion, how we feel.  That is music’s nature.

But we can also use music for a good end.  It is difficult to sustain a constant state of emotional excitement for anything.  We have our ups and our downs.  But we know that the stronger our passions, the greater drive we have to work for and towards things.  When I’m having fun at my job, I feel a great deal of energy to do the work.  When I’m having a dull, difficult day, I have to drag myself into the classroom and use every ounce of energy just to give a mediocre performance.

It is no different than our spiritual life.  We do not want a spirituality based purely on emotion.  But you are foolish to think that emotion will not play an important part in this relationship.  That is because emotion is an important part of all relationships.  And music can help fire up our passions for the Lord.

Colleen Vermeulen wrote about how the beauty of Handel’s Messiah can raise our spirits to the transcendent beauty of the God.  And this is true.  All things that are truly beautiful gain their beauty from Beauty Itself (God).  Dr. Peter Kreeft once said in his argument for God’s existence from beauty: “There is the music of Johann Sebastian Bach, therefore there is a God.  You either get that argument or you don’t.”

But not everything has to be of the classics.  There is a subjective nature to the art of music.  For some, classical choral and chant place them in a spiritual mood.  For others, hearing Mozart or Bethoven will raise their thoughts to Heaven.

For me, I find contemporary Christian music especially helpful.  After my conversion in the mid-90s, I fed my spirit with a steady diet of Jars of Clay, Third Day, and Rich Mullins.

Mullins particularly has been important in my life.  Not only is his music beautifully written, his lyrics are hauntingly poetic.  I often recommend “Hold Me Jesus” to people who have trouble praying.  It is a song that reaches into you and lets Jesus love you.  When I feel down and need inspiration to go on, I listen to Mullins’ “Sometimes by Step.”  They lyrics “And on this road to righteousness, sometimes the climb can be so steep/ I may falter in my steps, but never beyond Your reach,” have sustained me through many struggles.

And I lift my voice in song with them.  St. Augustine said “He who sings, prays twice.”  As a fan of stage musicals, a critic once said that certain musicals fail because the writer does not understand why the characters are singing.  They sing, he said, because there is no other way to express what they are feeling.

There are times when I am so caught up that I will spontaneously burst into song (though I am sane enough not to do so in public).  Sometimes I feel so excited or sad or scared that I have to open my blistered heart to Jesus with music, because that is the only way I can express what is going on inside my soul.

You may say to yourself that turning to music is for people with a weak spirituality.  If that is the case, then I gladly admit my weakness.  I am not strong.  I need all the help I can get.  And so do most of us who have not yet ascended the mountain of saintliness.

And even if we make it up to the top of the mountain, I think that we will find music.  And it will be a music higher and holier than any song on Earth.

But if we let Holy music touch us, it will be an arrow straight from God’s quiver to pierce our hardened hearts.

Copyright © 2013, W.L. Grayson

W.L. Grayson

W.L. Grayson

I am a devoutly Catholic theology teacher who loves a popular culture that often, quite frankly, hates me. I grew up absorbing every movie, TV show, comic book, science fiction novel, etc. I could find. As of today I’ve watched over 2100 movies and tv shows. They take up a huge part of my life. I don’t know that this is a good thing, but it has given me a common vocabulary to draw from in order to illustrate whatever theological point I make in class. I’ve used American Pie the song to explain the Book of Revelation (I’ll post on this some time later) and American Pie the movie to help explain Eucharist (don’t ask). The point is that the popular culture is popular for a reason. It is woven into the fabric of our lives and imaginations, for good or ill. In this blog I will attempt to bring together the things of heaven with the things of earth. Of course this goal may be too lofty for someone like me.

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