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!
I heard somewhere that the greatest trick the devil ever pulled was convincing the world he doesn’t exist. I don’t think that’s true at all. I think the greatest trick the devil has pulled is creating a false Christianity, a false truth.
Especially in the West.
Think about it. Look around you at what passes for Christianity in the West today. It is a “faith” that has a shiny coat of paint on it, a thin veneer of “Jesus” but lacks the substance, belief and practice of the faith once for all delivered to the saints (Jude 1:3).
I run in to this often these days. People in my circle sound good. They talk about going to church, call themselves Christians and maybe even do what they call praying. But once you start digging a bit and asking questions, that so-called faith starts to show some cracks.
For example, when I argue that Christians should probably not watch TV, I get lambasted. I have had eyes rolled; I’ve been laughed at. I even got called a prude. But, let us consider the words of St. Paul,
“Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things.” (Phil. 4:8).
Can anyone reading this really say that the vast majority of things you see on TV these days is anything but honest, just, pure, lovely, of good report, virtuous or praiseworthy? Can anyone reading this say that anything they see on TV is any of these things? Even if you find a sporting event that seems innocuous, you have to deal with the commercials that push all sorts of sordid agendas.
Or, read the end of Romans 14:23, where St. Paul says, “…for whatever is not of faith is sin.” Whoa. Now, I want to be fair. In this text, St. Paul is speaking specifically about meat offered to idols and other things like that, but this is relatable to every aspect of our lives. Or Romans 12:1-2,
“I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service. And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God.”
Again, can any of us believe that what we see on TV is the way we need to present our bodies as living sacrifices or the way we are to live holy lives? Can we honestly say that, by consuming the things of the world, we are transforming our minds to be renewed in Christa and prove what is good, acceptable, perfect or the will of God?
I think not.
But what our enemy has done is to make us complacent. He has created for us a false version of Christianity. It’s kind of like the Matrix. It’s a version of truth but not actually the truth. He has done this since the beginning. Look back at the Garden. We find it in Genesis 3. If you’re not familiar with the story, go read it right now. Look at what satan did. He deliberately used what God had made as good and slightly changed the phraseology. God told Adam in Genesis 2 that he was free to eat of any tree of the Garden, except the one, the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. But what does the enemy say? He takes what God says and twists it. Look at Genesis 3. The enemy asked (I’m paraphrasing), “Did God really say you can’t eat of any of the trees in the Garden?”
The enemy knew exactly what God had said. See how he twisted it? That is not what God said. And then he brought to humanity the great temptation that we all experience. Instead of obedience and living as God has commanded and as His Church tells us to, the enemy creates a false narrative.
Where God said, “Let us make man in Our image,” the enemy says, “Let us make God in our image.”
And this is where we get this pseudo-Christianity that is so popular in the West. Rather than obey what God has said to His people and what Christ gave to the Apostles and told them to pass it on; rather than obey that, we have to make things in our own image.
Fasting is too extreme and people will think you’re a fanatic.
Don’t prostrate yourself physically before God (at times) when you pray because it’s hard on your knees.
Don’t burn incense because it makes people sneeze. Don't have long services; people have things to do.
It’s okay to listen to worldly, lustful music because it’s not actually hurting you. It’s got a good beat.
Don’t worry about what the school system is teaching your children. They’ll be fine.
Who cares if you cuss a little? And don’t worry about what kind of clothes you’re wearing; it’s fine.
And whatever you do, don’t be too fanatical about attending all those services that the Church holds throughout the year and observe all those feasts and fasts. I mean, if you did, you’d be forming your whole life and schedule around the life of Christ and the Church. We can’t have that now, can we?! I mean, we can’t be living like Christians have always lived and believed what Christian have always believed, right?!
Most modern people who call themselves Christians are much more concerned with their own comfort than they are obedience to Christ and His Church. Let’s be honest.
Jesus had some hard things to say at times. He said that we were to take up our cross and follow Him. He said that some would lose their families and livelihoods and even their lives because of Him. He said that those who put their hand to the plow and looked back were not fit for the Kingdom.
He had hard things to say.
But, luckily for us, He gave us His Church, the pillar and ground of the truth (1 Tim. 3:15). The Church is where Christ is found!
Dear brothers and sisters, let us turn away from the world. Let us turn away from this thinly veiled worldly culture that has a shiny coat of “Jesus paint” on it. This is not Christianity. The Church has been with us, virtually unchanged since our Lord and His Apostles started it. As Pentecost approaches, let us turn again to the Church.
Let us turn again to Christ.