I have been thinking a lot about my dad recently. Perhaps it is because I have been writing about the aftermath of his death so many years ago in the Diary of a Sunflower, perhaps it is because I have been thinking and writing about Al Anon and the Twelve Steps, or perhaps it is because in the Journey with Julian of Norwich that I am praying with, the Mother God imagery is so prevalent, that it is also stimulating a dwelling on the image of Father God, and subsequently, thoughts of my own dad. It is probably all of these things that bring memories of him to the forefront of my mind. My eldest brother did the eulogy at the requiem mass for my dad and as he was preparing it, he asked each of us, my brothers and sisters, for a memory of my dad that was special to us. Mine was that my dad was always singing: he had an extensive knowledge of Scottish poetry and folk music, and he was always singing out loud. But he did not sing whole songs, just a couple of lines of many songs. So I have in my head the words to many Scottish songs, but not the whole song. It is a voyage of discovery when I hear a familiar tune, a few familiar lines, to then listen to the whole song. Here is an example, where the chorus and the first line were very familiar to me, but I had to find the full song, and even what it was called. This video clip has interjections from the excellent series “Outlander”, and other scenes from Scotland: although, the Outlander scenes are not about a woman losing her baby, or it being taken metaphorically by fairies, which is what the lullaby is about, based on Celtic mythology, I think. Outlander does have a scene in a later episode where a woman leaves her sickly child in the woods for the fairies to take, but that is a whole other story that is not really relevant here.
My children told me once that sometimes they would have a conversation about both parents, and the subject of one of those conversations was what quirky things they would miss if that particular parent died. They told me that they both agreed that what they would miss of me was that, sometimes when we were driving along playing music, a song would come on and I would turn it up and exclaim:
I love this song! This is about a conversation with God. Can’t you just imagine Him saying this to you?
Here is one of those songs, which expresses the joy and delight God takes in loving us, just as we are:
I have written before about how St. Ignatius encourages us to apply our senses to our imaginative contemplations, to use our memory, imagination and reason to help ground our experience in our bodies, to bring God more deeply into our reality. We call it the Application of the Senses, and it is a feature of repetition described in The Spiritual Exercises.
After the preparatory prayer and three preludes, it will be profitable with the aid of the imagination to apply the five senses to the subject matter of the First and Second Contemplation…The Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius trans. Louis J. Puhl S.J.
Since I have written about one of the senses explicitly before, it feels about time to dwell on another, and in particular, the aspect of hearing that is music. Like smelling fragrance, hearing music is very powerfully evocative and is also very much in the language God uses to speak to us. I am in complete agreement with Aldous Huxley here:
After silence, that which comes nearest to expressing the inexpressible is music.Aldous Huxley
I remember clearly the imaginative contemplation where “Jamming with God” became a regular feature in my prayer. The director had suggested I pray with the part of the gospel where John the Baptist points out the Lamb of God to two of his followers:
The two disciples heard him say this, and they followed Jesus. 38 When Jesus turned and saw them following, he said to them, ‘What are you looking for?’ They said to him, ‘Rabbi’ (which translated means Teacher), ‘where are you staying?’ 39 He said to them, ‘Come and see.’ They came and saw where he was staying, and they remained with him that day’John 1: 37-39a
When I went with Him to the place where He lived, we went to a house, constructed in a golden rectangle, with an arrangement of rooms as a golden spiral within that, and the Father and the Holy Spirit were there. This place appears often as the location of my colloquies in prayer, the conversation with God, as one friend speaks to another. Together, we spent the afternoon playing music, and there was also coffee and triple chocolate cake. But more of the latter another day, when I write about another of the senses. In my imagination, we played this following piece of music together:
In “The Fragrance of God“, I described the Father as the base note (Jasmine), Jesus as the middle note (Lavender) and the Holy Spirit as the top note (Ylang Ylang). I was talking about essential oils then, and I included myself as cedarwood, the combination making a single fragrance that is my relationship with, and my place in God, where nuances can be distinguished amidst the whole. So it is with music. In the piece by Sky, I imagine Jesus playing the piano – I have mentioned that I imagine Him playing piano before – and drums, The Father is on the bass, and the Holy Spirit is playing the acoustic and electric guitar. I am playing the melody on classical guitar, and it is my life, my soul, my story we are describing here. There are no words, the music is expressing it.
When I read Revelations of Divine Love by Julian of Norwich some years ago (rather than the present Journey I am doing), I developed an understanding of what I call “God time”. When she talked about the servant falling into the pit, in Revelations of Divine Love, she describes this as the Fall, not just the original Fall of our first parents in the garden of Eden, but also, simultaneously, the fall of Jesus into humanity, and so to bring about our redemption. I may of course, have oversimplified what Julian said, but what is significant in my understanding in what she said is that I realised that God was outside of time: to God, the past, present and the future are happening all at the same time. As the child planting sunflowers, seeing them grow was like watching time lapse photography, but instead of everything moving at speed, only the thing you were looking at moved, everything else stayed as it was – time only affecting what you are looking at is an aspect of God time.
It is like this also listening to music and jammimg with God. When I pick out something to listen to in the piece, a particular voice, I see that player, at that time. There can be more than one aspect of God playing simultaneously, but if I am listening to the drum part, I see Jesus playing drums. I may be aware of the piano playing, but when I switch my attention to the piano, I see Jesus playing piano. I can only be in the present, seeing and hearing the now, where I am, but God is not: God is everything and everywhere, all at the same time, and music is an expression of it.
Perhaps you could close your eyes and listen like this to the next piece of music? I imagine the Father on both the cello and the lute, and Jesus on the hapsichord. The Holy Spirit is on all of the violins. Pick out one voice at a time and focus on it, follow the flow of it, move to the next. Notice the movement within you.
To experience music is one way of applying our senses to allow our soul to hear the voice of God. My invitation to you is to notice exactly how it is that music connects you to God, both in prayer and in your life in general. And maybe, if it is relevant, to offer a grateful prayer.