For a great many of us, our first sounds were those of our hymns or chorales in Sunday worship services. I often think that my love for music came when I was laying on my mother’s lap at church, listening to the hymns and liturgies around me in worship. There is a richness, an environment of harmony, in the voices of those around us, blended with the accompaniment by the organ or piano.
Recently however, I have begun to experience an inability to find certain pitches, and an odd sensation of hearing “off-pitch” when certain sounds are played or sung. For most people this would be slightly troublesome, but for me it was a shock to my core. Most of my life has been filled with playing, singing, listening and creating music as an expression of my life and faith. And although I do not have perfect pitch, I have relative pitch.
And so, now when things are not as they should be, I retreat into a different version of myself. I am more hesitant, quiet and perhaps sad when I am singing hymns or anthems in choir. It is frustrating to say the least. And yet, even in the midst of all this, I have begun to think differently about music and even the activity of hearing. Now at times, music and lyrics are a bit like poetry, signs or messages in melodic form that tell a story – reveal the nature of God and our response.
There in worship, I gather snippets of meaning in the activity around me. “Did I hear God say… Is that the right lyric…What is that word, that phrase?” The difference is not always happy, but as in all things, God can use any and all experiences in life to give us insight into our daily living. We adapt and learn to hear the Gospel in different ways.
Hearing the Gospel (although differently) allows me to have another avenue into a world that is unsettled. For me, it is a learning curve, a different path that I’ve never been on before. And when I have better days, as we all do, I find a new appreciation for the musical intervals, pitch, and key signature in the music.
Perhaps, the same can be said of our world when we look at how many different sounds and melodies play out in the world around us. How do others hear the Gospel? For some, it is a message of hope. For others, it is just some words that describe an ancient ritual. Are the melodies and music in our world helpful or harmful to others? And what we hear around us – the sounds of traffic, loud voices, sirens and car horns – are sometimes in competition with the Gospel of Christ’s love and freedom.
Hearing the Gospel through music often takes more effort for me. It still has moments of frustration, but when clarity comes, I can still rejoice in the One who set the Music of Creation into motion. Now I am able to hear, not only with my ears, but with my eyes, my intellect and my being. And so the Gospel comes to me, and perhaps you, in our deepest needs. Go in peace and with a song in your heart, Friend Traveler.
Peace be to you
—David (with a horn and not a harp)
The Rev. David Merritt is a retired pastor in North Carolina. This piece originally appeared in the Spotlight Blog from the Southern Province Commission on Congregational Development.