Music Matters - The Sound of Heaven

Written by Stephen Kirk       Wednesday, 16 November 2011 20:50

This blog originally appeared on www.beingcatholic.com.au.

In the last article we looked at the power of music to take the truths of the faith and present them in a way that engages students, sticks in their heads, and ends up on their ipods.  Today we are going to look at the powerful way in which music can be used not just to teach the truths of heaven, but also to give students a glimpse of God.  Music can evoke in us an aching, a yearning for something more than what we can see or touch, and can draw us into a real encounter with the all-powerful, all-merciful God who is the source of all beauty.

Catholic schools as a place of encounter with God

We noted last time that the mission we have in Catholic schools is to not only educate our students, but also to draw them into an awareness of the reality beyond our physical world; a “knowledge and, as far as possible, love of the person, life and teachings of Christ and of the Trinitarian God of Love” (NSW and ACT Bishops, Catholic Schools at a Crossroads - CSAAC).

The Bishops then went further to say that  “If Catholic schools are to be centres of the new evangelisation the life and activity in the school would be the context for a personal encounter with Christ” (CSAAC)

So a key part of the mission of Catholic Schools is not just to teach students about God, but also draw them into a living encounter with God.  In order to do this effectively, we have to rely on more than just the words we use.

Drowning in a sea of words

These days, students are drowning in a sea of words, increasingly numb to the messages contained therein; deafened by the competing shouts of so many voices.  Nearly every waking moment of their lives is filled with noise of one type or another, with so many different messages being conveyed.  Some of these may be good, some bad, and many irrelevant (but noisy nonetheless), but the overall result is that they become increasingly immune to all of them.

“We are well aware that modern man is sated by talk; he is obviously often tired of listening and, what is worse, impervious to words.” (Pope Paul VI, Evangelii Nuntiandi, 42)
This presents a significant challenge to educators.  Our students desperately need to hear the “words of eternal life” (John 6:68) but how do we convey them in a way that they can hear through the cacophony of other voices?  One way to overcome this is to use music to draw them into an encounter with the Word of Life - God himself - which can then open them to hearing clearly the words of life.

Music as a bridge to an encounter with God

Music has enormous power to reach our hearts, even if our minds are closed.  A paper put out by the U.S. Bishops noted that “Music does what words alone cannot do.  It is capable of expressing a dimension of meaning and feeling that words alone cannot convey.” (Sing to the Lord 124)

Part of the reason for this is that beauty through music gives us a wordless glimpse - a reflection - of God, the source and summit of all beauty.  An experience of beauty is a “momentary glimpse of the abyss of light which has its original wellspring in God” (John Paul II Letter to Artists 1999, 6).

It is this powerful way in which music can draw us into an encounter with God that makes music such an effective “bridge to religious experience.” (ibid, 10)  God is a Person to be met, not a theory to be learnt, and an experience of beauty through music can be a vehicle through which we become aware that God is real, that He is with us, that He is amazing, and that He is the end goal of all our desires.  And as so many stories in the gospels of people encountering Jesus show us, a simple encounter with God can be life-changing.

One more advantage of using music is that beautiful music with good lyrics provides an added bonus; not only can it provide an encounter with God through the experience of beauty, but if people do encounter God then that in turn opens them up to the words being used, leaving them receptive to the truth contained therein.
So from a starting point of having students who might appear immune to the “words of eternal life”, an encounter with God - the Word of Life - through music can open them up to receiving the words which can then help them process and understand the encounter they’ve just had.

Bringing it home

So if music is such a powerful tool for drawing people into an experience of God, how can we use this tool more effectively?
Firstly, in an ever-increasingly noisy world we need to provide times of stillness for our students.  Find good, beautiful music - music that is accessible and engaging for the youth, but that is also deeply founded in our Catholic faith and that draws them into the quiet - to use as a reflection or focal point in those times of stillness.  And then ask God to touch your students, and trust that he will.

It won’t be the case that each of your students have life-changing experiences of God every time you play them a song.  But my own life story is testament to the fact that God can and does touch people in life-changing ways through music, and you never know what seeds God is planting in the silence of your students’ hearts.
What we do know is that God is with us, He wants our students to be drawn into an encounter with Him, and if we ask His help and give Him space to move, He will work. Sometimes it will be in ways we can see, and often in ways we can’t, but he will work.

Last Updated on Wednesday, 16 November 2011 20:53

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