As I sit here waiting for the time of my fourth dentist appointment in two weeks, I’m having a pretty good time reviewing the syllabus for my class at Wesley Seminary, called “Music and Social Justice”, that starts this Saturday. I still have a lot of reading to do before Saturday, when the class begins, and I’ve only completed the bare outlines of my presentation, “Social Justice Themes in Opera”, and I will admit I am not looking forward to a class that keeps me in a closed room all day this Saturday and therefore away from the Camp Fraser picnic, but I have been trying to take this class for a year and half now. So, off to school go.
This brings me back to a book I have talked about before, Music and Theology by Don E. Saliers. I’m glad I started reading it a month ago, because finishing it by the first class will be a bit of a challenge. Right now, I’m reviewing Chapter Three: “Three Theological Aims and Music Unlimited”, because while I’m enjoying the delights of the dentist chair (don’t we all love the sound of the drill?), I want to ponder some of the questions and concepts Dr. Saliers raises in this chapter.
The first thing I’ll be thinking about is the question that begins the chapter: “How is music related to the aims of Christian theology?” Well, that’s a question that causes many an argument on church councils and at staff meetings, and among church leaders and philosophers of all stripes and denominations.
But consider this interesting starting place: “music” and “theology” share much in common. First and foremost, both are comprised of a set of related practices. For music, there is the practice of music making, the practice of listening, and the practice of interpretation (for both the music maker and the listener). Theology, too, contains a set of related practices: writing, study, systematic analysis, literary analysis, language skills. Both “music” and “theology” have differing doctrines and categories.
And finally, the most important commonality, at least to me: both music and theology attempt in their own ways to express the inexpressible. Theology is literally “words about God”; an attempt to use words to describe something that is transcendent and beyond our mere human words. And music, through the use of sound and rhythm, tries to evoke that which is beyond words: feelings, and in the case of sacred music, faith.
This is what I will be thinking about in the dentist chair. Yes, I know that I’m strange. But as I head off to pass my morning listening to the sound of the drill, I want to leave you with this quote from Martin Luther:
After all, the gift of language combined with the gift of song was only given to man to let him know that he should praise God with both word and music, namely, by proclaiming the Word of God through music.