Thursday, 30 April 2009

The Revelatory Power of Music

Jim Gordon posted a stimulating blog on Leonard Cohen and our human struggles with love, loss and limitation. Having listened to Leonard Cohen, Live in London, my cursor is poised over the 'place your order' at Amazon. 

He also addressed the issue of the revelatory power of music. I find this a fascinating area and made some responses. As I've continued to think about it, I've looked up some of my jottings on the subject. While being cautious of giving music, or indeed any of the arts, a revelatory authority that it does not have, music undoubtedly has the effect of opening our eyes as well as our ears.

Jeremy Begbie writes of 'some fundamental encounter with transcendence in the creation of art and its experiencing.' Brian Beck says that 'the transcendent quality of music is itself a witness to God in his creation.' And Tom Wright speaks 'of the revelation of God in Jesus and the Spirit moving towards us and meeting artistic integrity coming the other way. Without the first, the artist is in danger of producing form without substance, a classic problem of both modernity and post-modernity. But without the second the theologian and preacher, struggling to hear what the Spirit is saying to the churches, might easily fail to speak the full truth.’

However, Nick Hornby does it for me, in 31 Songs:

'I try not to believe in God, of course, but sometimes things happen in music...When things add up to more than the sum of their parts, when the effects achieved are inexplicable, then atheists like me start to get into difficult territory...When I say that you can hear God in [music], I do not mean to suggest that there is an old chap with a beard - a divine Willie Nelson, if you will - warbling along with them. Nor do I wish to imply that this surprise guest appearance... proves that Jesus died for our sins, or that rich men will have difficulty entering the Kingdom of Heaven. I just mean that at certain spine-shivering musical becomes difficult to remain a literalist. (I have no such difficulty when I hear religious music, by the way, no matter how beautiful. They're cheating, those composers: they're inviting Him in, egging him on, and surely He wouldn't fall for that? I think He'd have enough self-respect to stay well away.)’  


Craig Gardiner said...

just catching up on some of the comments on Jim Gordons's blog re music and theology, and having enjoyed Richard and Graham on the visual arts at Assembly ... is it time to be thinking of a Baptists doing theology through the arts group / blog / something?

Geoff Colmer said...

I half-heartedly made this suggestion in a comment on Jim's blog. I think this could be worthwhile. Let's have a chat.

Keith Wallis said...

Leonard Cohen live ! Never managed that - would have loved it. Spent my teenage years listening to the 'Songs from a room' album. Got a number of his books but not bright enough to understand them.