Epiphanies: Music

This is the third week in a sermon series on Epiphanies.

Epiphanies are moments of “aha!” and moments of connection with the presence of the Divine. In the past when I’ve asked people to tell me times when they’ve felt the Spirit I’ve often gotten blank stares. “What do you mean feel the spirit? I just go to church and sing and pray… am I supposed to feel something?”

In my humble opinion, we’ve all felt the touch of God, we’ve all plugged into that spiritual electricity, people just don’t necessarily know that’s what it is. My hope was that this series would help people identify the presence of God through real experiences – creativity, art, music and poetry. The more conscious we are of the paths that the Spirit can take to touch us, and the more conscious we are of God in our lives on a daily basis, the more in tune we will be with the Divine and the more that will manifest itself in our lives in positive, healing ways.

Music is a part of almost every spiritual tradition… from Native American chanting, to Jewish cantors, to Gregorian chants and Taize music, there are the whirling dervishes of the Sufi, choirs and bell choirs, Kirtan music of the Hindus, orchestras and bands. In every age, every culture and every religion, music has been deeply woven into our spiritual lives.

You may or may not know that the chapters in the book we call Psalms were hymns; songs of praise as well as songs of lament. They were poetry that was sung or perhaps chanted. The Hebrew word Selah occurs 71 times in 39 of the Psalms and was most likely a musical direction of some sort. And the Psalms themselves call us to make music.

In fact, the Bible is full of stories of music.

  • After the Israelites left Egypt, Moses and the people all sang a song of triumph and praise to Yahweh. (Ex. 15:1-18)
  • Again, after the flight from Egypt, Miriam (Aaron’s sister) gathered up the women who then danced and played tambourines while Miriam sang (Ex. 15: 20-21)
  • David played his harp or lyre to King Saul to soothe him (1 Sam 16:23)
  • David and all the people celebrated with songs, harps, lyres, tambourines, rattles and cymbals (2 Sam. 6:5)
  • In Matthew, after Jesus has shared the bread and wine with his disciples, they sang a song before going out to the Mt. of Olives (26:30)
  • In the NT, Paul exhorts us to sing songs and hymns and spiritual songs

And this is just a small sampling!

Music helps us to feel. It is an emotional language, and as such links us to the depths of ourselves and has the ability to link us to something greater than ourselves.

While playing music, or listening to music alone, can be wonderful, it adds so much more to be playing as part of a band (or orchestra), or singing as part of a choir or part of a congregation or audience.

Playing with a band, as I have on and off for 10 years now, has often been an amazingly spiritual experience. There are times when the music comes together, the harmonies meld and flow, and the boundaries between one another become permeable. For a few moments separateness disappears and we are one with each other. The same thing happens when an audience is swept up in the swells of a great piece of music.

In both cases our vibrational energy increases, the group is brought to a higher level of awareness and spiritual experience. It is a spiritual high. It doesn’t matter if it is an upbeat piece of music, or a sorrowful one, something about the melodies and harmonies, and probably the heart of the musicians, draw the pieces of our lives together to a deeper place. Some of us experience this as goosebumps, some as tears, some as awe or euphoria. Whatever the case, I’d call it a Divine epiphany… we are no longer individuals, we are more, or one, or all.

The church has had its opinion about the type of music that “should” be played in worship… it had to be “sacred” music… something that sang about God, or was felt to be “appropriate” to play for the Divine. Hymns about God, or classical music, or chanting. In the 1950s most churches condemned rock ‘n roll and dancing as being of the devil. It wasn’t until Vatican 2 (1965) that the Catholic Church revised their stance on music and allowed guitars and more folksy music in the mass.

In my opinion, if music lifts our hearts and souls, if it connects us on a level of joy and celebration – even if it doesn’t mention God – then it is sacred and filled with the Spirit. If music has deep meaning, makes us stop and think, connects us to deeper feelings that are more mellow or even sad, and draws us together in that deeper emotional place – even if it doesn’t specifically talk about God – we are experiencing the Divine as our connection to one another. The music draws us out of our egos and into a deeper place.

Yes, secular music can speak to us in a spiritual way!

And then there is the ability of music to heal. Music can lift us out of a bad mood, or help us to mourn, express sadness or celebrate with joy. In 1 Samuel, David played his harp to help King Saul with depression, making him a music therapist!

Music therapy includes creating singing, moving to, and/or listening to music to help with healing, cognition, and communication. It is used in many different settings for many different reasons including: hospitals, schools, hospice care, for people fighting cancer, for kids with autism, for Alzheimer’s patients and women giving birth.

Julia Cameron, in The Vein of Gold, says, “Music speaks to the wounds we have no words for. It heals where all else fails.”

 

Here’s another thought… we may not be able to play a musical instrument, or sing a note, but our voices are still our instruments. Our words carry vibrations and energy that are positive or negative. We are all capable of sending out healing words to others and the world. Or not.

Music is sacred. It is a window to the soul and a window to the Divine. It provides us with epiphanies – transcendent experiences of connection to God. I encourage you to recognize the spirit that is present when your heart is touched through music. And I encourage you to use music to heal and energize yourself and others.

Love & Light!

Kaye

 

 

 

 

Epiphanies: Art

(This is the second in a sermon series on Epiphanies.)

Art seems to be a neglected topic in the churches. Sure our churches are filled with all art 3manner of art – stained glass windows, music, sculpture, murals, paintings, poetic liturgy and even some liturgical dance. But, have you ever heard a sermon preached on the in-breaking of God through art, or the potential art has for facilitating epiphanies in our spiritual lives? I’d bet a month’s salary you haven’t (not that I’m a betting person). To be fair, I haven’t preached it either, until now.

(For the full video version, click here.)

I think this neglect has at least something to do with the lack of scripture on the topic.  In addition, I think it also has to do with the fact that art and the connection it gives us to the Divine and to others takes us into the realm of the mystical. Frankly, the church doesn’t deal with that realm very well. It’s too personal, too experiential, it opens the door to different interpretations, and deep feelings, and a one-on-one connection to God. The institution is far safer and more in control when people rely only upon worship and priests/pastors for that connection.

So, let’s talk about art. Here are some of the big questions around art and religion: Can art be a way to God?  Is art in the life of faith a luxury … or a necessity?

Now, I’m not an artist, though I must admit I’m envious of those who have that gift… upon whom the Holy Spirit has breathed creativity, imagination and skill. And, yet, even artists have struggled with the question of whether their commitment to the world is simply superfluous. It’s not feeding the poor, advocating for justice or visiting the prisoner. Is art important? Is it a way to experience God? Does it matter for spiritual growth or society, for that matter? Seems when our schools are forced to make budget cuts and they immediately choose to cut art and music that, sadly, the message is that these things are unimportant or unnecessary.

And yet, art is not simply visual beauty and enjoyment or creative expression… it is universal communication. The language of art is symbol and image; it is the language of the Spirit and of dreams. It is wordless and so transcends words and language barriers to the sensual and the experiential. It is perhaps a better means for conveying the sacred as it is less limited than our spoken words. As N.T. Wright stated in Simply Christian: Why Christianity Makes Sense,

“The point is this. The arts are not the pretty but irrelevant bits around the border of reality. They are the highways into the center of a reality which cannot be glimpsed, let alone grasped, any other way.”

Art has a great capacity to help us transcend this world to touch that Something More that we all yearn for, because art is an act of the soul. And creating art is an act of vulnerability and risk because it enables us a glimpse into another’s soul… that is sacred in and of itself.

But more than that, art points beyond itself. It leads us into the emotional, experiential world where we are drawn into sadness, joy, despair, hope and so much more. Art has the capacity to connect us with our hearts, which is where we find our connection to the Divine. Marcus Borg, in his book “The God We Never Knew” explains,

Spirituality is thus for the hatching of the heart. Whatever helps to open our hearts to the reality of the sacred is what we should be engaged in.”

Spirituality is far beyond the judgmental, finger-pointing God that many people grew up with. Spirituality is even beyond the prayers, hymns, and liturgy of the church. Spirituality is about opening the heart to God. It is about epiphanies, the aha moments when we recognize the presence of the Divine here and now.

The Yale Divinity School magazine, Reflections, published an issue in 2015 focusing on questions of art and religion.  They invited some of their graduate students, who also had, or were working on, degrees in the arts to contribute their thoughts. There were three that struck a chord for me.

Megan Mitchell, a master’s student in religion and the arts spent time helping to create public murals not only in the U.S., but also in Africa and Haiti. What she discovered is that art opens a space for listening and attention. She comments, “That’s what the world needs now: space to take notice of each other, our own souls, and the still small voice of [God]…”

Jeremy Hamilton-Arnold, a master’s student in religion and the visual arts and material culture, spoke of watching people who came to visit the art Gallery at Yale where he worked. Religious and non-religious groups alike “venerate their favorite artists and works. They uplift the art museum space as “sacred,” comporting themselves with religious-like postures. They hush and clasp their hands before dimly lit images. The works seem to elicit awe and reverence.”

And Meredith Jane Day, a Master’s of Divinity student and a member of the Yale Institute of Sacred Music related a story of preparing for Advent that year. She and a small group of 20 people all gathered for eight hours in a library in New York City to spend time in silence, wonder and discussion about the season. To facilitate the day, the group was shown photos of famous paintings from the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Meredith commented that, “The room was full of brilliant seminarians, clergy, and academics, but it was the art that gave us something we could not have offered on our own. It provided a spiritual avenue for confronting our humanity, at the same time assuring us of a mysterious glory within.”

To bring us full circle and answer some of the questions we started with…

Clearly, yes, art can be a way to experience the Divine. It can provide the potential for epiphanies … unexpected, potent moments where the Spirit breaks in. Art can facilitate a deeper listening and attention to God, but also to one another, and oneself. Art draws us into a space of reverence, awe and a sense of the holy. And, art helps us to delve into aspects of our shared humanity, while drawing us deeper into the ineffable presence of God within.

Church and life without the arts would be significantly lessened, and our ways to the Divine curtailed, were we to omit art as too secular, or too sensuous, or too frivolous.

Perhaps in the strictest sense, art in the life of faith is a luxury (certainly we can exist without it… unlike food, water and shelter). But who would want to? Truly we are so blessed by the artists in our midst – the painters, writers, sculptors, dancers, photographers, and so many others – how can their gifts not be of God? So, if the gift of art, done with heart, is a gift of the soul and a gift of the Divine, if it helps us transcend this plane of existence and experience Something More, then perhaps, by design, it is necessary.

Peace,

Kaye

Epiphanies: Creativity

We celebrated Epiphany yesterday with the traditional reading of the story of the magi. Symbolically, the magi represent the larger world – they come from afar, they are not Israelites, they know nothing of prophecies, but they have seen in the heavens that something in the world has changed. A new king has been born, but he is a king unlike any that anyone expects. This child shall be for all nations, all people.

(For the full video version, click here.)

An epiphany is an “aha” moment, and in religious language an epiphany is an “aha” moment when we recognize the presence of the Divine. The magi story is an “Aha!” from the world that God has broken into life in a new, creative way.

For the next three weeks, I’d like to explore epiphanies… ways that God breakscreative into the world that we don’t talk about because they aren’t exactly named in Scripture. We’ll begin with creativity, how each act of creative energy – large or small is an in-breaking of God into our own lives, a channeling of the Divine, a connection to the Source. In the weeks to come, we’ll talk about other tangible ways that the Divine breaks in: art, music and poetry.

So, let’s start with creativity. In The Artist’s Way, Julia Cameron states,

“I have come to believe that creativity is our true nature, that blocks are an unnatural thwarting of a process at once as normal and as miraculous as the blossoming of a flower at the end of a slender green stem… In a sense, your creativity is like your blood. Just as blood is a fact of your physical body and nothing you invented, creativity is a fact of your spiritual body and nothing that you must invent.”

The ways that one can be creative are endless. These are only some of the ways we express our creativity that we named yesterday:

  • Art, music, poetry
  • Gardening, landscaping,
  • Home decorating, setting a table (think Martha Stewart)
  • Quilting, knitting, scrapbooking, coloring
  • What you wear, how you style your hair, do your make up
  • Cooking, baking
  • Problem-solving and brainstorming
  • Interacting with people
  • Raising children, teaching

Basically, I think that one can approach just about anything in life creatively. And yet, I don’t know how many times people have said to me, “Oh, I’m not very creative.”

And I’m thinking, “Why not? Are you sure? Says who?”

What if I told you that I truly believe the inability to be creative is hooey? It’s NOT that some people were born creative and others weren’t. We all have creativity within us, it may just not be the same type of creativity. Creativity is part of our spirituality, or our spiritual body, as Cameron says. It is an innate part of every person.

So, consider this…  Cameron tells us that learning to live a more creative life is a spiritual quest! Our creative juices will be limited and dry up quickly if we try to create solely drawing from our own personal resources, experience and ideas.  To live a more creative life we must open ourselves up to the spiritual energy of the universe. She encourages everyone to connect with what she calls spiritual electricity. She says you don’t have to have a specific name for it (though some use God, Source, Goddess, Universe, Energy), and you don’t have to understand how it works. In the same way you don’t need to understand electricity to use it either. All we need to do is find ways to make the connection and open the doors to the flow.

She has two books of exercises that have been derived from her class notes on connecting with our creativity. The three most effective ways to connect the well of universal creativity she says are:

  • Morning pages –  every morning hand-write three pages of whatever you want. Follow the writing wherever it wants to go. This is time between you and God.  Re-read them occasionally. They will open one to the flow where one will start to see creative changes in one’s life and work.
  • Weekly dates with yourself – each week do something with yourself only! Take a long walk on the beach, go bowling, watch an old movie, visit an art gallery or museum or zoo. Fill oneself with sights and sounds and new experiences. The intent is to create intimacy with oneself.
  • Filling the well – the world drains us, and being creative can drain us. We need to take time to “fill the well” by replenishing our creative energy. She says, “Think magic, think delight, think mystery. Follow your curiosity, ask questions, be lured into the new of something.” There are other ways to fill the well… listening to music that lifts you up or gets you dancing. Anything with a repetitive movement can be meditative and fill you with energy – chopping vegetables for dinner, taking a shower, swimming, scrubbing, and driving. Walking has been my “go to” tool for filling the well whenever I’m out of ideas and banging my head against the proverbial wall.

I admit that I’m terrible at being disciplined at anything, much less writing daily and having weekly dates. Sorry, Julia. But I can greatly appreciate the principles behind these three points. I use journaling and time alone to help me replenish my creativity. And I’m clear that I’m tapping into Something More when I do them. The creative zone happens when we completely let go of our judgments and fears of failure and consciously invite the Universe into the process.

As a teacher of how to reclaim one’s creative powers, Cameron said the transformation of students is amazing. It is truly an enlightenment, in the literal sense. Students take on a glow as they begin to contact their creative energies.

The Divine works constantly in this world in wildly creative ways, why is it so hard to believe that – created in that image, having the Divine spark in each of us – we too can be wildly creative?  Because we are… we need to begin to believe this, and then to put ourselves in the path of that creative flow, open our hearts and minds and time to it. Risk and dream, explore and experiment, let go of inhibitions and fears of failure or foolishness… live our inheritance of creativity.

Love & Light!

Kaye