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Music and Spirituality
is an interesting enigma in many aspects and regardless of your personal
interest or lack of interest in music, you have to admit that in this day
and age with the ease at which music can be produced, bought and sold, downloaded
and even transported via Walkmans, I-pods, and laptops, music is an integral
part of many peoples lives. For many people music is a part of their daily
routine. Many people are inextricably attached to their music as can be
seen in the massive numbers who daily listen to the radio, CD's or I-pods,
watch music videos, sing or play an instrument in school or the church choir.
And if you ever had a doubt with the "fascination" of music, take into account
the popularity of prime time TV's "American Idol" which again testifies
to the popularity of both music as well as the use of music as a vehicle
to stardom, and maybe even the need to have music in our lives.
Many think of music and think popular music, Madonna, Usher, Cher, Destiny's
Child, Marilyn Manson, etc. and all the hype associated with the names
and fame. Despite the glitz and gold, music is not only important and
popular in the more urban areas. Even the less technologically advanced
areas and cultures/societies have music integrated into their lives; they
sing, chant, and or play a variety of instruments. The most well know
instrument would be the drum which is integral in nearly all societies
in one way or another. There are those who say the drum's importance revolves
around the primal sound of the beating heart, which the drum resembles.
Regardless of your personal affinity to the drum and its history we must
wonder why is music a part of so many people's lives? No matter the occasion
or ceremony and no matter the ethnic group, religion, or culture, music
exists as a major player and each person truly does "dance to the beat
of a different drummer."
Music is a powerful tool that can transform the human condition. It
can lift someone from the pits of depression and hopelessness to a place
of peace, joy, and optimism. It can also be a dangerous tool that can
lower the human condition. It would be possible to debate and outline
the dangers that are inherent in much of today's contemporary (secular)
music but that is not where my focus shall be. I do however want to make
it clear that what I am going to say regarding the more secular/contemporary
music in no way means I am condoning censorship, in any form. Despite
its more "worldly" (and in many ways dangerous) influence, what I propose
is awareness rather than censorship. I can accept the fact that all music
has a time and place and that in many ways the music reflects the culture
and people in which it is produced. I do however want to caution those
who may not have taken into account the dangerous side - the dark side
of music; be aware of what you choose to enter your mind via the music
you listen to. Do not fall into what many use as their reasoning, defense,
or excuse, "I only listen to it for the beat, not for the words." Even
though your conscious mind is not "listening," your subconscious is aware,
alert, and is picking up every word that is expressed. That is one reason
that concepts such as "The Mozart Effect" (see appendix 1 at the end
of this article) are said to be able to produce the changes they
This is also one reason that more studies related to such things as
adolescent behavior and the influence of music are being conducted. There
is a lot of evidence to suggest that adolescents who listen to certain
types of Heavy Metal and or Rap are more likely to have lower grades in
school, engage in more violent behavior, increased sexual promiscuity,
and abuse of drugs and alcohol, to name a few. According to Roger H. Meyer,
"Heavy metal, rap, or martial music excites the nervous system and prompts
people to dynamic action or aggressive behavior. It's not surprising that
Gulf War pilots listened to recordings of heavy metal music before launching
their offensive flights into battle." (Meyer 2003)
While much is being studied in connection to adolescents and their behavior,
music affects adults in similar ways as well. In the previous paragraph
I mentioned Meyer and one observation he had of the Gulf War pilots who
listened to heavy metal before going into battle. Why did they do this?
Because the music affects their mood, which affect their performance in
battle. The music "pumped them up" making them more "hyped" and ready
for combat. Based on that, I wonder what does listening to heavy metal
do to the person who is driving down the freeway? Heavy metal is not the
only aggression or "blood flowing type of music." Hardcore rap has been
said to produce similar results.
Again I ask a question. How many times can you hear someone sing/rap
about sex, drugs, and or violence before those thoughts find a place of
fertile soil and take root within the listener's psyche? How many times
can you hear songs where women are used only for their bodies as sexual
objects, before your own perception of women is altered and you also see
them as objects to be used and or abused? How many times can you hear
reggae artists or others sing/rap about hatred and the killing of homosexuals
(or anyone for that matter) before you become hardened and start believing
the propaganda that homosexuals are evil, wrong, and deserving of death?
(Appendix A contains links to examples of lyrics. Lyrics are graphic
in nature. Viewer discretion advised.)
Yet again, I reiterate that I am not saying we should censor their creative
rights. As artists they have a right to produce art that they desire to
create. My point is that we as responsible humans/consumers must realize
that "we" have a choice. What I am suggesting is that we all may want
to consider becoming more aware of what is being conveyed in the music
we listen to. Stop claiming to only listen to the beat because it is easy
to dance to it. Become aware of how it affects us and our children, and
in turn decide if we want it in our lives. The music industry will follow
suit when our dollars no longer line the inside of their wallets.
OK, now on to a more spiritual "note."
Music has throughout history has been used in a variety of ways, from
uses in ceremony and ritual to celebration and enjoyment. In terms of
the religious or spiritual implications and uses of music they are as
varied and numerous as the stars in the sky. While there are many religious
and spiritual traditions I could reference in terms of their music and
worship practices, I will remain within my own practice as an eclectic
Music inspires and uplifts, drawing closer to the divine; it heals our
emotional selves and some researchers would say it can heal the physical
body as well. The Bible has many references to music; I would like to
cite a few of them here:
Psalm 40:2-3 (English Standard Version)
2 He drew me up from the pit of destruction, out of the miry bog, and
set my feet upon a rock, making my steps secure. 3 He put a new song
in my mouth, a song of praise to our God. Many will see and fear, and
put their trust in the LORD
Psalm 98:4-6 (English Standard Version)
4 Make a joyful noise to the LORD, all the earth; break forth into
joyous song and sing praises! 5 Sing praises to the LORD with the lyre,
with the lyre and the sound of melody! 6 With trumpets and the sound
of the horn make a joyful noise before the King, the LORD!
Judges 5:3 (English Standard Version)
3 Hear, O kings; give ear, O princes; to the LORD I will sing; I will
make melody to the LORD, the God of Israel.
Genesis 31:26-28 (English Standard Version)
26 And Laban said to Jacob, "What have you done, that you have tricked
me and driven away my daughters like captives of the sword? 27 Why did
you flee secretly and trick me, and did not tell me, so that I might
have sent you away with mirth and songs, with tambourine and lyre? 28
And why did you not permit me to kiss my sons and my daughters farewell?
Now you have done foolishly.
1 Chronicles 6:31-32 (English Standard Version)
31 These are the men whom David put in charge of the service of song
in the house of the LORD after the ark rested there. 32 They ministered
with song before the tabernacle of the tent of meeting until Solomon
built the house of the LORD in Jerusalem, and they performed their service
according to their order.
1 Chronicles 25:5-7 (King James Version)
5 All these were the sons of Heman the king's seer in the words of
God, to lift up the horn. And God gave to Heman fourteen sons and three
daughters. 6 All these were under the hands of their father for song
in the house of the LORD, with cymbals, psalteries, and harps, for the
service of the house of God, according to the king's order to Asaph,
Jeduthun, and Heman. 7 So the number of them, with their brethren that
were instructed in the songs of the LORD, even all that were cunning,
was two hundred fourscore and eight.
1 Chronicles 25:6-8 (King James Version)
6 All these were under the hands of their father for song in the house
of the LORD, with cymbals, psalteries, and harps, for the service of
the house of God, according to the king's order to Asaph, Jeduthun,
and Heman. 7 So the number of them, with their brethren that were instructed
in the songs of the LORD, even all that were cunning, was two hundred
fourscore and eight. 8 And they cast lots, ward against ward, as well
the small as the great, the teacher as the scholar.
Nehemiah 12:27 (King James Version)
27 And at the dedication of the wall of Jerusalem they sought the
Levites out of all their places, to bring them to Jerusalem, to keep
the dedication with gladness, both with thanksgivings, and with singing,
with cymbals, psalteries, and with harps.
Job 21:11-13 (King James Version)
11 They send forth their little ones like a flock, and their children
dance. 12 They take the timbrel and harp, and rejoice at the sound of
Psalm 81:1-3 (English Standard Version)
1 Sing aloud to God our strength; shout for joy to the God of Jacob!
2 Raise a song; sound the tambourine, the sweet lyre with the harp.
3 Blow the trumpet at the new moon, at the full moon, on our feast day.
Psalm 108:1-3 (New International Version)
1 My heart is steadfast, O God;
I will sing and make music with all my soul.
2 Awake, harp and lyre!
I will awaken the dawn.
3 I will praise you, O LORD , among the nations;
I will sing of you among the peoples.
Psalm 144:9-10 (New International Version)
9 I will sing a new song to you, O God;
on the ten-stringed lyre I will make music to you,
10 to the One who gives victory to kings,
who delivers his servant David from the deadly sword.
Psalm 147:7-8 (New International Version)
7 Sing to the LORD with thanksgiving;
make music to our God on the harp.
8 He covers the sky with clouds;
he supplies the earth with rain
and makes grass grow on the hills.
Psalm 149:2-4 (New International Version)
2 Let Israel rejoice in their Maker;
let the people of Zion be glad in their King.
3 Let them praise his name with dancing
and make music to him with tambourine and harp.
4 For the LORD takes delight in his people;
he crowns the humble with salvation.
Lamentations 5:13-15 (New International Version)
13 Young men toil at the millstones;
boys stagger under loads of wood.
14 The elders are gone from the city gate;
the young men have stopped their music.
15 Joy is gone from our hearts;
our dancing has turned to mourning.
Ezekiel 26:12-14 (New International Version)
12 They will plunder your wealth and loot your merchandise; they will
break down your walls and demolish your fine houses and throw your stones,
timber and rubble into the sea. 13 I will put an end to your noisy songs,
and the music of your harps will be heard no more. 14 I will make you
a bare rock, and you will become a place to spread fishnets. You will
never be rebuilt, for I the LORD have spoken, declares the Sovereign
Revelation 18:21-23 (New International Version)
21 Then a mighty angel picked up a boulder the size of a large millstone
and threw it into the sea, and said: "With such violence the great city
of Babylon will be thrown down, never to be found again. 22 The music
of harpists and musicians, flute players and trumpeters, will never
be heard in you again. No workman of any trade will ever be found in
you again. The sound of a millstone will never be heard in you again.
23 The light of a lamp will never shine in you again. The voice of bridegroom
and bride will never be heard in you again. Your merchants were the
world's great men. By your magic spell all the nations were led astray.
Now, that we have read just a few of the passages that mention music,
we as Christians must now ask the ever important - yet elusive - why and
how questions? Why is music mentioned and used in the biblical passages
as it is used? How does music have the effect on us that is does? Obviously,
regardless of the literal or metaphorical mention of music one must agree
that it (music) is significant in the life of believers, past and present.
On the more concrete and scientific level, music is a topic of much debate
as researchers and scientists attempt to find evidence of music's power
over our mind, emotions, and even bodies. Is there a correlation between
what science is finding and what scripture tells us? Music affects us
in a number of ways: physically, mentally, and spiritually.
As science has proven according to Healingmusic.org,
"brain waves can be modified by sounds. Beta brain waves, those that are
between 14 and 20 hertz are the most common. We achieve a state of relaxed
concentration or lucid awareness when the alpha waves, between 8 and 13
hertz, are present. Music with about 60 beats per minute--particularly
that of Mozart, Brahms, and Bach--shifts the brain's activity from beta
to the higher-awareness alpha waves (see The Mozart Effect). Physically,
music has a way of pulling us into sync. Our bodies will automatically
adjust to the pace, rhythm, or pulse of the music we hear. Think about
how many times have you walked into a room with other things on your mind
and heard music playing. After stopping to listen for a few minutes you
suddenly realize that your foot is tapping to the music or you are swaying
your head or body with the beat."
Music is also believed to be able to effect the listener's immune system.
The work done by Goldman & Gurin in the area of psycho-immunology revealed
that nerve fibers are contained in every organ of the immune system and
that these nerve fibers provide biological communication between the nerve
endings and the immune system. Their postulate is that a direct link exists
between a person's thoughts, attitudes, perceptions, and emotions, and
the health of the individual's immune system. This being the case, they
state that humans have the ability to be proactive in the health of our
bodies and minds. One such way to be proactive is through music. Music
provides a way for us to tap into the innate knowledge that resides deep
in our cells. "We live 'in' music. Great music nourishes us in ways we
don't even realize. It inspires us, relaxes us, energizes us--in short,
it heals us and keeps us well."
Music can have profound influence on our minds by evoking memories that,
like footprints in the sand, are washed away with the coming of time.
Have you ever heard a song that you heard as a child or heard when madly
in love and as you listen, not only do the memories flood back in but
the sights, sounds, feelings, scents, and emotions of that time return?
Music can have strong emotional, mood altering powers over us as well,
as the professional music therapist would agree. Music can influence the
psyche and bring about major life altering changes. This is not theoretical
but is a practice used by composers of advertising jingles as well as
film makers, who use mood induction procedure (MIP) music to create a
variety of desired moods. Think of the music from any horror or suspense
thriller. The music draws us into the world of the film, sets the tone
and pace. Often times the music scares us long before the monster of villain
So if music can affect us on a physical level and it can affect our
mental and emotion states of being, it only stands to reason that music
can and does affect our spiritual self as well. Before going on, I want
to ask a question. Do Christians need to listen to "Christian" music (gospel,
hymn, etc.) to have a spiritual experience? Can a Christian listen to
Beethoven and draw closer to God? What about music from the soundtrack
to the film "Snow Falling on Cedars?" In the film "The Titanic" as we
watch the ship sinking and the people fighting for survival, the music
tugs at out heart strings and we feel compassion and sorrow. As a result
of the music's influence, the soundtrack for that film sold by the hundreds
of thousands. Why? Did people want to be reminded of the death and misery?
I would say, no. Were they buying it to dance to? Again, I believe I can
safely respond by saying, no. I would argue that it was due to the haunting
melody that gave the audience goose bumps and seemed to have the ability
to take the listener to a place beyond the material.
As I sit here thinking of how music affects us, I am taken back to my
childhood. I can recall watching Sesame Street as a child. For one particular
lesson they showed a film clip of a snake pursuing (to the best of my
recollection) a mouse. The show this film clip twice and only one thing
changed between the two times they showed that clip. The first time it
was shown, the music was eerie and suspenseful which added a kind of tension
that made the snake the predator and the mouse its prey. The second time,
the music was quite different. It was playful and bouncy. This change
in the music now gave the feeling of watching two playmates; the snake
and mouse seemed to be playing a game of tag.
I am convinced that it was nothing short of a spiritual experience as
I and countless others sat in the theatre watching "The Titanic" and were
brought to tears (which included me). This is the power of music. I call
this experience spiritual because of its power to raise us to levels beyond
the flesh. Because it stimulates contemplation of things beyond the confines
of time and space. It guides us to a place where only the spirit exists
and where the "real" self communes directly with our creator. In his book,
"Your Best Life Now," Joel Osteen reminds us of many things (excellent
book by the way). One key thing he stated was that happiness is a choice
and that environment does not prevent us from being happy. And that as
the Bible states, "a merry heart does good like medicine."(277) Pastor
Osteen later states in the book, "Our lives need to be inspired, infused,
filled afresh with God's goodness every day."(297) Music is one of those
tools that we can utilize to do just that. No matter if we are using the
music as a calming peaceful mediation or using it to shout praises and
glory to God, music fills us with a power that in many ways is unrivalled
in scope and magnitude of those it affects. Music is one of those rare
forms of expression that is very personal, very intimate to the listener.
While Twila Paris or Cece Winans may bring one person to tears or elevate
them to worshipful praises, it may take Ray Boltz or Kirk Franklin to
the same for another.
Music has a way of reaching beyond and touching us. Many people select
their churches based on the music ministry of the church. If the music
does not touch them, there is no point in going. Now, I personally do
not think that the choir should be the sole defining factor in church
selection, I can understand the rationale. Music speaks directly to the
listener in a way that often times the pastor's sermon does not. The words
of the sermon remain just words while the music speaks to the soul. Once
the soul is moved, the communion with God has begun. Music is a language,
a way of expressing our praises and thanks and to glorify God. The reason
that is has that ability is that music is a form or prayer, a mantra.
In the book "Spiritual RX", the authors say that, "Repetition of a mantra
or short prayer is another proven method used to stay centered on the
path of practice . . . The mantra becomes a constant companion, reminding
you of your relationship with the Divine and helping you to navigate through
all the distractions your mind may be prone to while you are walking down
the street, waiting for the elevator, watching the computer retrieve a
page, brushing your hair, or engaging in any other activity that doesn't
require concentration." (Brussat 21)
Many or us sing our favorite songs and in repetition we in effect turn
the song into a mantra and in doing that we summon the power of that mantra.
Like the person who walks down the dark alley and whistles or hums a tune
to chase the fear away, we summon the spirit, the power, the presence
of God through our music.
As an artist and a performer, I have found that music has found a way
to suffuse itself into everything that I do. When I workout and do my
martial arts, I do so with music playing in the background. I also do
this when I am drawing, painting, or sculpting. My practice as a dancer
and choreographer also has music inextricably bound to it as well. Even
my study and love of American Sign Language find music a powerful source
of power to my essence, my spirit. Even as I write these words, softly
playing in the background are Enya, the soundtrack to The Last Samurai,
and a CD called Peace of Mind which is part of the Windham Hill
Music relaxes us, inspires us, and fills us with true enthusiasm (Definition
courtesy AOL dictionary: Etymology: Greek enthousiasmos, from enthousiazein
to be inspired, irregular from entheos inspired, from en- + theos god)
So the next time you turn on the radio, reach for a CD or your IPOD, or
are sitting watching a movie, be aware of what you are filling your ears
with. Be aware of why you like that type of music, that song, that artist.
Be aware of what the music does to your body, your mind, and your spirit.
Be aware of its power to unite or separate. The choice is yours.
Go now in peace and be enthusiastically inspired by the hand of God.
Brussat, Frederic and Mary Ann. Spiritual RX: Prescriptions for living
a meaningful life. New York: Hyperion, 2000.
Meyer, Roger H. "The
sounds of music: music can have remarkable benefits for your health, or
it can be destructive." Vibrant Life Nov-Dec 2003.
Osteen, Joel. Your Best Life Now: 7 Steps to living at your full potential.New
York: Warner Faith, 2004.
is Healing Music?" 2000 Healing Music Organization. 2000.
for further reading:
The Mozart Effect: Tapping the Power of Music to Heal the Body, Strengthen
the Mind, and Unlock the Creative Spirit.
The Mozart effect
Outlined and defined
We know that brain waves are modified by sounds. Beta brain waves, those
between 14 and 20 hertz are most common. We achieve relaxed concentration
or lucid awareness when alpha waves, between 8 and 13 hertz, are present
Music with about 60 beats per minute--particularly that of Mozart, Brahms,
and Bach--shifts the brain's activity from beta to the higher-awareness
alpha waves. It's called the Mozart Effect. This type of music lowers
stress and increases concentration. A study in England found students
scored 10 points higher on an IQ test after listening to Mozart compared
to those exposed to silence, white noise, or other music. White noise
is just low-level random sounds. Examples are radio static and running
Links to lyrics
Warning: Be advised some lyrics
may be offensive
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