by Diane Thrush
from the Spring/Summer 2017 issue of Reflections magazine.
Music is an important part of our spiritual journey and often changes as we grow and mature in our spiritual formation with God. Over the course of a lifetime our musical tastes often change and vary, as well as they should.
Just as our prayer life does not remain static, so too the music which shapes our faith and magnifies our relationship with God often doesn’t remain static.
One of my professors, Dr. Dorothy Fouillard, OP, developed a schema for spiritual growth that included seven stages of relationship with God. Stage seven was a fully relational, theologically formed union with God. Once one had gone all the way to stage seven, she believed we could then go back to stages that had been meaningful along the way. For Dr. Dorothy it was lighting candles. Early in her faith development lighting candles had been the ultimate prayer. After becoming a more mature and formed person spiritually, she still loved lighting candles, but the act was defined by a more developed spirituality, not the be all and end all as it had been before. For me, such it is with music and my own spiritual development.
As dualistic people who find security in either/or, right/wrong, and good/ bad, we are always looking for categories in which to sort things. Unfortunately that is true with music. We can have a definitive idea of what “proper” music should be and we lump all the rest as “wrong.” My eldest aunt on my Baptist side of the family was like that. In her later years she was sure what proper music was. Her children told how she reacted when her church began incorporating the youth into the worship. They said she loved hearing the youth give their testimony to the Lord, but that when they picked up their guitars to sing, she was appalled! She told the pastor they needed to sing the proper hymns.
In the summer of 1965 I worked on staff at Camp Capers. The music was the same old, tired camp music that had been around for decades. Chapel services were accompanied by organ and the Hymnal. Some of the clergy taught us camp songs from their youth — oh brother, was that boring! There was not much inspiration in our worship music.
But on the slab at night, that was another story; Harry Mitchell, the assistant camp manager, was playing Bob Dylan and the Rolling Stones. There was a music revolution going on and Harry was bringing it to us each night. The music was upbeat and inspiring, and we danced a thousand miles that summer. Harry also woke us up every morning with Lester Flatt and Earl Scruggs. Now that got us up and out of bed.
None of this was Christian music. Yet it had life and rhythm which stirred our souls, and our hymnal did not provide that for campers and young adults at that time. Nobody had even thought of Christian music played on a guitar in our neck of the woods. Yet, “the times they were a-changin.” These days to experience a closing service at camp and watch the energy, vitality, and joy of the Lord on display is exhilarating. I don’t choose it for my Sunday worship experience, but I love seeing the campers celebrating in such a way.
My own music preferences are very eclectic reflecting many years and stages of my own spiritual growth. I have lived through the 60s folk mass period, the Fisherfolk music, my own discovery of Bach, Mozart, Handel et al, Gregorian and Anglican chant, Cursillo music, Taize, Mariachi mass, the Wesleys, classic southern spirituals, and of course, the traditional Baptist hymns of my father’s family. He and his siblings grew up singing in harmony around the piano while their mother played. We always sang at family reunions. Those hymns are deeply soothing to me at certain times. Blessed Assurance, my grandmother’s favorite is just that- “blessed assurance, Jesus is mine.” My grandfather’s favorite — How Great Thou Art — fills my heart with hope: “then sings my soul my Savior God to thee, how great thou art, how great thou art.” I believe those hymns are part of my DNA.
Just as Dr. Dorothy explained, we can pick and choose spiritual practices that we have learned along the way and that fit what we need when we need them. So it is with music. I am in and out of my music preferences as the mood or need strikes me. Neither phase of my music preferences is right/wrong. My music choices are not more “right” than anyone else’s choices. They are all part of my lifelong spiritual journey and formation accompanied by growth and change. I have been willing to learn from each stage to become more of who I am today. I have drawn nearer to God in each and every phase. Above all, then, I choose to respect that same development in those around me and understand that their music is their music and part of their spiritual story too.
Diane Thrush is a retired chaplain and a member of
St. Luke’s, San Antonio. Reach Diane at
For Further Reflection
Have your music preferences changed over the years? What can you identify in each type of music as adding to your spiritual formation?