Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Forgoing Words

The past two weeks have been emotionally exhausting in various ways. One thing that has gotten me through has been the morning and afternoon concerts on NPR. I’ve never been someone who casually listens to classical music, but suddenly, it was not only enjoyable, it was filling some void that other methods of self-care were not. 

I like words. I like writing and finding the most accurate way of describing a situation. I like to overanalyze and pontificate. But sometimes there are experiences and emotions that cannot sufficiently be expressing through language (or at least my limited language). Mystical encounters, dark depression, the agony of alienation—moments that defy reason yet somehow seem more real than everyday reality. 

And that’s the importance of music. It touches on that reality beyond our words and reasons. Even as someone who usually prefers the lyrics to the melody, I have to admit that good melody and soaring instrumentation makes the lyrics wholly secondary. I don’t need the Latin or Italian or German to understand the universal human experience being expressed. 

And this goes to my complaint about bad church music too. You can’t tell me that Mozart’s Great Mass in C Minor and Dan Schutte’s Mass of Christ the Savior are equal in their beauty or transcendence (and even then, it seems like chant is fundamentally better). There are such things as preference and taste, but there are objective standards too. I don’t have to know the words or even the flow of the Mass to give into the music of Mozart’s Mass. I surrender, and the music carries me. It was written to carry me. It builds, pulling me ever upward, reminding me of my place in the universe, of the beauty of creation, of the love of God.  Schutte’s Mass reminds me of the need for better catechisis. 

Sometimes words are necessary. It is good to analyze a situation or an emotion, to name it and properly understand it. But sometimes words only get in the way. They fail to grasp the weight or intensity. They cloud the experience, create distance between myself and the emotion. If I’m busy describing it, then I don’t have to feel it. Words become a cloak to hide behind, to mask the feelings or the silence. Sometimes it’s best to forgo words.

God is loud in silence. Cardinal Sarah said, “The only reality that deserves our attention is God Himself, and God is silent. He waits for our silence to reveal Himself. Regaining the sense of silence is therefore a priority, an urgent necessity.”

But if the silence is too much reality to bear, then giving oneself over to chant or classical music is a good place to start. 

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