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SPIRITUALITY: Music
by AMY MATHENY
2005-06-01

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Music is an important part of all of our lives. Many people talk about being moved by the "spirit" when hearing a song. Sometimes it makes us clap or sway or dance or sing along, and sometimes, it can change us. Music is a powerful force in our lives and in our worship. Dr. Lee Patterson is co-founder and serves as Minister of Music for Resurrection and Hope Ministries, an affirming ministry that loves to hear the songs' of all of God's children.

Dr. Lee Patterson

MEDICINE IN THE MUSIC

For what seemed like an eternity, she took in a slow, deep breath of preparation. I would swear that the entire congregation took in that same long breath of anticipation with her. Suddenly with an emotional intensity matched only by her sinewy lyrical control, she reached up with her voice and plucked out a perfect high E from the heavens themselves, "…How great…Thou art." As the soloist completed the phrase, she transitioned to a minor chord, jazz-tinged riff filled with cascading arpeggios and peppered with unpredictable vocal twists and bends that would have made Aretha herself sit up and take notice. She milked everything out of that last phrase -- running the note down through a span of at least two octaves with each flawless tone falling effortlessly into place like pearls onto a black velvet glove. And then it was finished.

It seemed as if the church and time itself were frozen for a breathless moment. Then the dam broke: a swelling wave of emotions gushed out of the congregation's people. Some yelled, "Hallelujah!" "Girl, you better sing that song!" "Praise Him, praise Him!" Some shrieked or screamed unintelligibly. And some just quietly sat with their heads bowed as they unsuccessfully tried to choke back streams of tears in silence because they simply could not find the words. But still, everybody in his or her own unique way "got happy." They got happy.

Somehow the collaboration of the booming and swelling chords of that old Hammond organ along with the polished, yet sincere, vocal dexterity of the soloist managed to take a stiff 19th century hymn; drag it up through more than 100 years of social upheaval, turmoil, and injustice; stop for a moment in this 1973 unair-conditioned Sunday service; and gently apply it like a healing balm to a congregation full of various hurts, emotional scars, and unspoken dreams.

It was over 30 years ago that I witnessed that particular collective experience. And I cannot remember a more vivid or tangible example of how direct and immediate the effect of music can be on someone's life. Through a child's eyes, I saw a building full of broken and weary people become transformed in that moment -- their hopes restored and their spirits revitalized -- if only just long enough to help them make it through another week.

That's the healing power of inspirational music. That's the subtle force of motivation ( and when necessary, consolation ) that a true psalmist, writer, or instrumentalist wields with each inspired and artfully woven phrase or chord progression. Whether it takes the form of sweaty, belted out, in-your-face gospel; soothing, melodic strains of contemporary Christian; or even the dissonant, electronic, decibel-challenging guitar solos of alternative Christian punk, God's music is for the people.

In the Bible itself, we find a description of this medicinal power of music at 1 Samuel 16:23. This passage shows a vengeful and emotionally troubled King Saul who would have the young David play his harp whenever a heavy spirit of distress came upon the king. Through the beautiful, comforting music created by David on his harp, the burdened King Saul found refreshment and release from his distressing spirits.

However, inspirational music is not only used for the purpose of "calming the savage beast." It is capable of so much more. It has the potential to uplift and encourage the hopeless; nurse and comfort the wounded; melt the hearts of those hardened by years of cruelty and rejection; and even initiate the process of breaking down centuries old barriers of misunderstanding, judgment, and prejudice.

Understandably, this is a pretty tall order to place on a few little dots, squiggles, and dashes mystifyingly arranged on five-lined musical paper. But just know that this order has been filled many times before. So with some unselfish effort and emotional transparency on the part of the artist, it will be filled again.

Now to all of those who sing, play, and/or write the music, never forget that it is through our notes and phrases that God continues to speak, heal, and ultimately transform. It is an awesome responsibility. So we must make sure that we focus not only on the proficiency of our performance, but even more so, on the sincerity of it. I've heard it said that, "what comes from the heart, reaches the heart." So there really is no denying the healing power of music when it is truly inspired. After all, God dwells in the praises of the people - ( Psalm 22:3 ) .

Dr. Lee Patterson, MD is a practicing physician in the Chicago area with professional experience in gospel music and worship. He is cofounder and minister of music at Resurrection and Hope Ministries -- a young, growing ministry in Hyde Park that provides an Open & Affirming atmosphere for the nurturing, education, and full worship experience of all God's people.


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