on god and music
(the following is an excerpt from the sacrament meeting talk i gave in my ward several weeks ago.)
god gave me music at an early age. i was an incredibly anxious child and extremely shy. i went through the world hoping not to be noticed and barely speaking if I could at all help it.
Around the time of my eighth birthday, my school put on a talent show. I didn’t display any extraordinary talent for an eight year-old, nevertheless, I was drawn to that sign-up sheet. I must have gone up to it fifteen times and each time convinced myself to walk away, that the last thing I wanted to do was perform in front of a lot of people. But by the end of that day, almost against my will, I had signed that sheet, declaring that I would be singing (something I had never previously done publicly) in our school talent show.
My parents stared at me in disbelief when I told them what I had done and briefly tried to talk me out of it. But something stronger than myself was leading me to do this thing that nobody, including myself, believed I could do. The night of the performance came and I shakily got up on that stage and sung in that sweet innocence that only children possess:
I picked the reddest apple from the tree, it was the nicest one that I could see. I saved it all except a bite or two…Just for you.
A song of childhood devotion, sung for my mother. And from that time forward, I was a singer. God gave me a voice when I could barely speak above a whisper. I was given a gift that helped me feel good about myself, that quelled the anxiety of my childhood and that has given me confidence throughout my life.
But I was given another gift as well. I learned that God would speak to me through music even if I couldn’t hear or feel Him in more traditional avenues. So at every important juncture in my life, God’s will has been made known to me through music.
It cannot, for example, be an accident that I married a musician. That I fell in love with and had my choice confirmed amidst the soaring melodies of Strauss and Wagner. I believe that God speaks to us in the way that we are best equipped to hear and understand. For me, it is through song.
Indeed, it seems to me that music was designed as a medium through which God can communicate with His children and uniquely touch our lives.
Consider the mechanics of sound and how it is registered by our brains. Sound is really no more than waves of vibrating air that travel into our ears, touching our eardrums and firing the neurons for our brain to decipher. Each step in the process is so delicate and so remarkable that it must have required the touch of a masterful designer. We feel music so deeply because it is quite literally touch, touch at a distance.
There is also increasing research that music is among the first things we are exposed to and recognize as infants. (Unless, of course, you are one of my children in which case you were exposed to it in utero. And if you know anything about classical music and my children, the fact that George had a strong preference for Beethoven, Sylvia for Stravinsky and William for Tchaikovsky I think says something about their personalities now.)
This research has shown that there are four distinct melodical exchanges, fittingly called “motherese”, that parents engage in with their infants. So if you come to our home you are likely to hear a lot of approval—“Good boy, good boy”—as William learns to walk. And comforting—“Oh darling, you poor, poor baby”—as William struggles with teething. You can hear the music in those exchanges. These spoken melodies are present in all languages and understood by all of us which makes me wonder if they were not among the songs our Heavenly Parents sung to us.
This was illustrated for me the first night of my own motherhood. That night mr. mraynes lay sleeping, I tried to calm my beautiful newborn son, George. He fussed and cried and nothing I did soothed him. I felt a familiar panic rise up in my throat as I saw the sadness in his big, blue eyes. I was not prepared for motherhood, I did not know instinctively how to soothe a baby. I remember tears coming to my eyes as I called out for help, feeling the profundity of my inadequacy. As an answer, a simple tune escaped my lips.
I had learned to call thee Father, thru thy Spirit from on high, but, until the key of knowledge was restored, I knew not why. In the heav’ns are parents single? No, the thought makes reason stare! Truth is reason, truth eternal tells me I’ve a Mother there.
My crying child quieted. As I sung those cherished words of the realization of a Father and a Mother, my George, looked at me with the deep perception that newborns posses, as if to say, “I know, Mama. They are with us.” And in that moment I communed with God and was lovingly instructed on how to become a mother.
I felt Them ministering to me again when we blessed William in our home a year ago. As many of you know, William was an unexpected blessing after a period of profound darkness in my life. There is a song that I sang at his blessing from the French version of our hymnal, set to the music of Dvorak’s New World Symphony.
Do you know little one, Heav’nly Parents dear called your name, held you close, in a world still near. Though you’re now in my arms, just beyond my sight in your eyes glitter still Images of Light.
I have always loved this song but as I sang those words once again, I was able to be one with God. During my depression and the pregnancy that followed, God had largely remained silent but in that precious moment I felt that my suffering had been known and that I had been given William as a reminder of God’s love. In that moment, heaven was in our living room, in the words of Souviens-toi and in the eyes of my baby.
I have been so supremely blessed to have found God in music that I feel like David when he wrote the Psalm:
I waited patiently for the Lord; and he inclined unto me, and heard my cry.
He brought me up also out of an horrible pit, out of the miry clay, and set my feet upon a rock, and established my goings.
And he hath put a new song in my mouth, even praise unto our God…
I strive to, when I sing or make music, to give myself fully to the endeavor because, for me, it is spiritual work. I am an introvert and vocalized prayer is uncomfortable for me. But no such block exists for me in song. Song is the place where I communicate my hopes and fears to God. I use song to lean into those places where flesh and spirit are in tension.
Music is a vehicle to commune with God but only if we are willing to risk laying bare the deepest longings of our hearts. I have a testimony that such willingness is rewarded with moments of perfect grace by a God that loves us more than we could ever imagine.