Augustine and Music

So, then, my brothers, let us sing now, not in order to enjoy a life of leisure, but in order to lighten our labors. You should sing as wayfarers do – sing, but continue your journey. Do not be lazy, but sing to make your journey more enjoyable. Sing, but keep going. What do I mean by keep going? Keep on making progress. This progress, however, must be in virtue; for there are some, the Apostle warns, whose only progress is in vice. If you make progress, you will be continuing your journey, but be sure that your progress is in virtue, true faith and right living. Sing then, but keep going.

My dear sister was married recently. I was told to bring along my guitar, and I played it briefly at the wedding. Due to complicated circumstances regarding regional airplanes and cabin space, I had to part with my instrument for a while when I came home and she was in transit (yeah.. she refers to the guitar right there).

I was honestly surprised at how much I missed it.

It was like when the witches in His Dark Materials part with their dæmons for a bit.

Okay, maybe not that bad, but it was really, really bad.

It made me think of when Autumn handed me her guitar and it was like she was passing off her spirit for a moment. She watched me handle it carefully: my hands feeling the play of the strings, the depth and slide of the action, comparing the warmth of the tone against my Ibanez. Then I handed it back to her; returning the soul to its rightful owner.

I think music, for me, had sort of become a a siphon through which emotion could be extracted from the soul. For pain, it could draw out venom like a brilliant, rhythmic antidote. For praise, it calls forth steadiness, peace, and joy, from places that might of been forgotten had God not taught us songs to sing, to join along with.

I recently began taking music lessons for the first time in my life. My teacher quickly escalated from being a person I respect to someone I dearly love, because she is interested in how music relates to the world and how that plays out in my life. I think I needed that more than I even needed technical advice, because I care about communicating more than sounding good. Of course, I'm hoping I'll end up at least decent at both.

Anyway, yesterday I sat in my room and thought about why worship is such a critical part of faith. I think the most incredible thing about music is how when you sing things and mean them, or at least mean them with as much of your being as you possibly can, you begin to sing them into truth. That is the beauty of praise.

The same is true of lament: of despairing songs, we become despaired. But there is healing in dwelling in the truth and gravity of pain for a moment. It is like a catharsis that only comes after facing heartache.

But for God, we sing because it draws out what we believe and makes it true for us: that God is great, that he sustains us, and that we adore him. For if we would not proclaim it, the rocks would testify that he is great, that he sustains us, that we adore him, and we would listen to truth sung to us.

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