Have you ever considered how music touches our souls?
The preacher sat toying with his coffee cup, now mostly empty. When we first sat down an hour before, it had been filled to the rim with the hot, black elixir.
We had talked of history and faith and friends, along with a sentence or two about the glory days of our youth. As our time together inched toward its termination, the conversation turned toward the philosophical.
My guitar-playing friend was there, as well. He, as was his habit, contributed to the direction of our discussion with a short narrative about a man and his wife of many years who had sung together at a recent music event the storyteller had headlined.
The thing is, the lady has Alzheimer’s. She doesn’t know her husband anymore, nor is she able to comprehend even simple questions or enter into conversation. But, she sang.
It’s not the first story told about music and how it is so deeply ingrained in our very being. Many others have their own anecdotes, family lore which lightens the darkness of sad periods in their memories. I have my own. too.
The last time I visited with the red-headed lady who raised me—my mom—before she left this life, she didn’t know me. Told me I was no good. Ordered me out of her house.
But, when I sat beside her in church that morning and held my hymnal in front of her, she nearly pulled it out of my hand as she tugged at it. And, she sang.
Tears came to my eyes as I visited with my friends that morning, just a week or so ago. The three of us sat on the sidewalk at the cafe, conversations abuzz all around and cars passing by on the busy downtown street; all I heard was my Mama’s voice singing praise to her Creator.
Why does music touch our souls?
How is it that the words and melodies are written indelibly on our hearts when all else has gone dark?
From the depths of our being, when neither voices nor photos, nor even faces can bring familiar, well-worn paths and fellow-travelers back to mind, the introductory notes of an old hymn—or even a folk song or ballad—stir the synapses of the mostly unresponsive brain to recall the words and tune faultlessly.
Even my father-in-law, in the last years of his life almost completely unresponsive, would sit beside his wife as she played the piano, and his once strong voice would ring out the tenor part as if he had no impediment whatsoever.
Why does music touch our souls?
I attempted to interject my thoughts on the effect music has on our emotions, the right sequence of notes drawing tears in appropriate places during the course of a movie, or even the use of certain types of music to inspire courage and fidelity on the battlefield.
The preacher dismissed that as simply emotions, not actually the heart. I, not sure I agreed, ceded him the point, since it was clear that any argument would have been merely subjective, without any possibility of claiming definitive proof.
Perhaps that’s a discussion for another day. I’m not fully convinced. I’ll have to think on that awhile longer.
For today though, the question still demands an answer. Why does music touch the soul—or heart, if you prefer—and leave its mark stamped thereon?
Jabal had a brother, whose name was Jubal. He was the father of all who play the harp and pipe. (Genesis 4:21)
Jubilation and jubilees had arrived. Seven generations after Adam, the gift of music began to be ingrained in the human spirit. The birds in the trees no longer had any advantage over humanity, save that they could fly.
Henceforth, the human spirit would be moved, not only by words and emotions, but by music. Notes and chords, strung together and played or sung, would make their way inexorably and irretrievably into the hearts of men.
For those of us who hold a worldview shaped by Scripture, music would have the purpose of drawing men to God and glorifying Him. The Word is full of evidence. Read Psalm 95:1, Ephesians 5:19, 2 Chronicles 5:13, to only begin.
Scripture’s pages are full of the act of making music. Across the ages, hearts were drawn irresistibly to God in song.
What a gift!
The weekend after that coffee morning with my friends, I stood in the Sunday morning worship service where the Lovely Lady and I fellowship and, once again, the point was made as clear as a mountain spring to me.
Although, I am often privileged to be part of the worship team on-stage, on this day I stood in the midst of the main group on the floor level. My mind, as is too often the case, was on the more practical issues of my life—work, finances (or the lack thereof), uncertainties of the future—rather than focused on worship.
There was nothing spectacular about the music. Nothing.
And yet, as I stood and sang, as I had been taught to do early in life by that red-headed lady I spoke of earlier, the eyes of my soul were drawn irresistibly to higher things.
The God of all the universe has come to live within us. To walk with us. To put eternity in our hearts.
My voice broke. As the tears flowed, my voice fell silent.
My heart did not.
I wonder if He hears the song in our hearts when our voices fail us.
Music touches our souls because the God who is Love knew we would need to be reminded. Often.
What a gift! The gift that soothes, that inspires, that makes the heart to soar.
Musick has Charms to sooth a savage Breast,
To soften Rocks, or bend a knotted Oak.
(William Congreve ~ English playwright ~ 1670-1729)
Sing a new song to the Lord,
for he has done wonderful deeds.
His right hand has won a mighty victory;
his holy arm has shown his saving power!
The Lord has announced his victory
and has revealed his righteousness to every nation!
He has remembered his promise to love and be faithful to Israel.
The ends of the earth have seen the victory of our God.
Shout to the Lord, all the earth;
break out in praise and sing for joy!
Sing your praise to the Lord with the harp,
with the harp and melodious song,
with trumpets and the sound of the ram’s horn.
Make a joyful symphony before the Lord, the King!
Let the sea and everything in it shout his praise!
Let the earth and all living things join in.
(Psalm 98: 1-7 ~ NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.
© Paul Phillips. He’s Taken Leave. 2017. All Rights Reserved.