My music tastes have changed over the years. Once upon a time, I was all about some “gangster rap.” I mean, weren’t we all in the 90s? But seriously, my musical tastes over the years have ranged from rap to “classic rock” to classical music.
I guess I didn’t really think about music all that much to be honest. I went to boarding school in Kenya for middle and high school. We had pretty strict rules about music. There were certain kinds of music that we were prohibited from listening to. Naturally, that was the kind of music I gravitated toward. If it was against the rules, I was all about it.
I guess that’s pretty natural, or at least that’s what we tell ourselves anyway; that it’s natural to be rebellious and break rules. From a theological perspective, I can see that. We are, because of the Fall, prone to sin. We are prone to sin because we’ve inherited that disease, the sickness of self from our first parents.
But I guess I never really took music that seriously. Or at least didn’t really think about it that much or how much influence it could have over us. But the voice lifted in song is powerful. Singing moves us, generates emotion and so on. It reminds me of the story of the creation of Narnia from C.S. Lewis’ work The Chronicles of Narnia. The character of Aslan creates the land of Narnia entirely by singing.
Lewis describes it, in part, this way,
“In the darkness, something was happening at last. A voice had begun to sing. It was very far away and Digory found it hard to decide from what direction it was coming. Sometimes it seemed to come from all directions at once. Sometimes he almost thought it was coming out of the earth beneath them. Its lower notes were deep enough to be the voice of the earth herself. There were no words. There was hardly even a tune. But it was, beyond comparison, the most beautiful noise he had ever heard. It was so beautiful he could hardly bear it . . . Then two wonders happened at the same moment. One was that the voice was suddenly joined by other voices; more voices than you could possibly count. They were in harmony with it, but far higher up the scale; cold, tingling, silvery voices. The second wonder was that the blackness overhead, all at once, was blazing with stars. They didn't come out gently one by one as on a summer evening. One moment there had been nothing but darkness; next moment a thousand, thousand points of light leaped out . . . If you had seen and heard it, as Digory did, you would have felt quite certain that it was the First Voice, the deep one, which had made them appear and made them sing.” – from The Magician’s Nephew, pg. 98-99
The most beautiful noise he had ever heard. It was so beautiful he could hardly bear it…of course, Lewis is describing the “First Voice”, but the point remains. There is power in singing. Maybe this is why Holy Scripture talks about it so much. There are so many texts that it would be pages and pages of quotes but let me give you a few,
“Sing to the LORD a new song; sing to the LORD, all the earth. Sing to the LORD, praise his name; proclaim his salvation day after day.” Psalm 96:1-2
“I will be glad and rejoice in you; I will sing the praises of your name, O Most High.” Psalm 9:2
“But let all who take refuge in you be glad; let them ever sing for joy. Spread your protection over them, that those who love your name may rejoice in you.” Psalm 5:11
And the list could go on and on. Singing is important. What we sing is important and how we sing it is important. Over the last year or so, this has become really important to me in my own walk with Christ and is supremely important, I believe, in how we all follow The Way. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again; what we consume matters. The things we put in our minds matter. That especially comes to media and, in this case, music.
Let me illustrate it this way. Have you ever found yourself singing the words of a song you’ve heard a hundred times and never realized you knew the words? One of the best ways to teach children something is to put it to song. There is something in the human person that responds to music.
Which makes it super important that we pay attention to what music we listen to. I’ve recently heard my own children singing song lyrics that are not exactly Christ honoring. That’s my failure as a parent and spiritual leader of our home. Now I know some of you will say that I’m being a prude or going too far or that they’ll hear it eventually. It’s true that, as long as they are in this world, they will hear the things of the world. Doesn’t mean I have to just let it happen.
Recently (over the last year) I have begun listening to a lot of chant, Orthodox chant. I have been amazed, first off, that my own family is critical of this. Comments like “boring” and “depressing” have been leveled at this sacred music. It saddens me that I have allowed my own family to be so corrupted by the world. It amazes me, secondly, how this sacred music has affected me. It leaves me at peace, joyful, but also deeply and soberly reflective. It also makes me a little jealous of the monks who get to live their lives singing and praying and worshipping God in an environment like that.
It also gives me hope. One day, all this trash of the world will be gone. All these voices raised in praise of ugly depravity, sinful debauchery and trivial nonsense will be silenced. One day the voices we raise will be raised in triumph and worship and praise. St. John, the Blessed Theologian, describes it for us,
“And when he had taken the book, the four beasts and four and twenty elders fell down before the Lamb, having every one of them harps, and golden vials full of odours, which are the prayers of saints. And they sung a new song, saying, Thou art worthy to take the book, and to open the seals thereof: for thou wast slain, and hast redeemed us to God by thy blood out of every kindred, and tongue, and people, and nation; and hast made us unto our God kings and priests: and we shall reign on the earth. And I beheld, and I heard the voice of many angels round about the throne and the beasts and the elders: and the number of them was ten thousand times ten thousand, and thousands of thousands; saying with a loud voice, Worthy is the Lamb that was slain to receive power, and riches, and wisdom, and strength, and honour, and glory, and blessing. And every creature which is in heaven, and on the earth, and under the earth, and such as are in the sea, and all that are in them, heard I saying, Blessing, and honour, and glory, and power, be unto him that sitteth upon the throne, and unto the Lamb for ever and ever. And the four beasts said, Amen. And the four and twenty elders fell down and worshipped him that liveth for ever and ever.” (Rev. 5:8-14)
Sing, brothers and sisters! Let your voices be heard lifted in song to our Lord and King and Saviour! One day we will all worship around the Throne and join in the song of the Lamb! And it will be the most beautiful sound we will ever hear. Until then, sing to Him with anticipation and love and fidelity!
Sing to the Lord!
When I was a rookie police officer, my training officer and I went on a domestic disturbance call. There were many such calls over the years, but I’ll never forget this one. We got there and could hear a man and woman shouting at each other in the house. My training officer pounded on the door. The door was jerked open from within, and things got suddenly real quiet. We walked in the house.
Now, I have to tell you why things got so quiet. I’m not a big dude. I’m barely 5’9” and weigh maybe a buck seventy. Back then, I was lighter, probably around 160 lbs. My training officer, however, was another story. About 6’4” and weighed about 250 and it was all muscle. He was a big guy and looked very intimidating.
We walk in the house and my TO picked up the TV remote. He turned the channel and said, “Ya’ll be quiet; Andy’s on.” And so, we watched a few minutes of the Andy Griffith show. I had no idea what was going on but knew that this was NOT how they taught us to handle domestics at the academy. At a commercial break, my TO looked at both them and said, “Ya’ll don’t be ugly.” He got their names and we walked out.
Ya’ll don’t be ugly.
It’s a southern thing.
I tell that story to start this conversation about ugliness. If you pay attention at all to what is happening in the world, you can see quite clearly the ugliness of the world around us. There is so much hate, so much vitriol, so much tension. Rage seems to just ooze out of everyone. Our public figures (especially our President) just seem to be angry all the time about everything. The fact that we even have conversations about abortion and war and mass shootings and suicide and drug overdoses (and the list could go on) should illustrate to us how ugly and bitter and destructive the world is.
This is a real struggle for me right now. I see the ugliness of the world. I see the destructive and satanic agenda being pushed, especially on our children, and I am anxious and angry and feel the proverbial walls closing in. The fact that people either seem oblivious to this or don’t seem to care and just keep kicking the can down the road is unfathomable to me. Going along to get along and keeping quiet while the world descends into hell is unacceptable.
But here’s where it really strikes home for me. I was recently reading a book review of a compilation of sayings from St. Silouan, a Russian ascetic. One of the sayings jumped off the page at me.
“Of a truth I say, speaking before God whom my soul knoweth: in the spirit I know the Most Pure Virgin. I never beheld her, but the Holy Spirit allowed me to know her and her love for us. Had it not been for her compassion I should have perished long ago; but she was minded to come to me and show me, that I might not sin. This is what she said: ‘I find your ways ugly to look upon.’ And her words, soft, quiet and gentle, wrought upon my soul. More than forty years have passed since then but my soul can never forget those sweet words, and I know not what return to make for such love towards my sinful self, nor how to give thanks to the good and forbearing Mother of the Lord.”
“I find your ways ugly to look upon.”
I cannot stop hearing it in my soul. “I find your ways ugly to look upon.” Can you feel how that quiet whisper crashes into your heart? Oh, how this convicts me! How far I have fallen from the ways of our Saviour. How far I have fallen from the ways of His Blessed Mother. How far I have fallen from the ways of the saints.
I read Holy Scripture and the things that our Lord Jesus said and did, the things that His Apostles said and did, the words of the Fathers and the saints and I am ashamed. I am ashamed of myself. Far too often, my ways are ugly to look upon. My selfishness, pettiness, anger, greediness, and worldliness are so very ugly. So very sinful. Wretched man that I am. I live such a silly and frivolous life. My heart is too easily distracted by silly things that have no eternal value. I think we’re all like this at times. We read the lives of our Lord, His Apostles, the Fathers and the Saints and we should be struck by the differences in ourselves and them. There was an intensity and focus and sobriety about them that we are sorely lacking. Or maybe it’s just me.
Pray for me, brothers and sisters. Pray for yourselves. Let us fall on our faces and repent of our ugly ways. Turn off the TV, TikTok, Instagram and Facebook. Turn away from the world. Turn again to the staggering beauty of our crucified Lord. Turn again to the purity and piety of the ascetical life of the Church. Turn again to prayer and the life of the Christian. Partake of the Liturgy and the Body and Blood of our Lord as often as possible.
May God forgive us for the ugliness of our lives and hearts. May He grant us His beauty and peace as we turn again, over and over, to Him.