The Power of Music



There is power to music, and we are witnesses. As Paula noted a moment ago, already we have seen this congregation step up in financial generosity to support wonderful growth in its music program-let’s keep it up! Let’s not only reach our goal of $40,000 but even exceed it! Blow right past it!
And before I say anything more, grateful thanks are in order to our guest musicians for donating their artistry and talents this morning; to our wonderful UUCA musicians of all ages; to our awesome Music Director Task Force for their service to this congregation (and to Paula Peace in particular for leading the Miracle Weekend initiatives); and finally to Travis Vaughn, for all his enthusiastic participation and collaboration.
Ultimately, it’s all about pulling together, and not apart. Pulling apart, we cannot do what we are called to do, and we fall short, we become a self-frustrating people. But when we pull together-that’s when miracles happen. That’s when this place blazes forth with wonders like the music concert from this past Friday. That’s when. We open our windows, and what flies in? [The dove.]
Music shows us the way. Here is one small but significant instance. In just the simple act of singing together, note how we are breathing together, note how we are breathing in harmony. Have you ever noticed this? In the most basic and visceral way, song’s essential power is to pull us together and not apart….
And then there is the way in which a piece of music can be a repository of collective identity. Think of all our favorite hymns. What comes to mind for me is “Spirit of Life,” and here is what I know: the more we sing it together, the more it becomes a place in which we can find each other and know ourselves as builders of a community united by a covenant of right relationship, empowering spiritual freedom. We are Unitarian Universalists, and “Spirit of Life” tells us what that means: we are a people longing for roots to hold us close, for wings to set us free, for giving life the shape of justice. There is no finer “elevator speech” to introduce others to Unitarian Universalism than this. (And let me say: if you actually sing the song to them, trust me, they will remember you.)
The power of music-to pull us together and not apart. Harmony. Identity. And also this: collective resolve. Here I am thinking of a quote from Sally Belfrage, in which she describes a moment during the 1964 Civil Rights movement in Mississippi, amidst all the uncertainty and turmoil: “There were more songs,” she says, “and finally we stood, everyone, crossed arms, clasped hands, and sang ‘We Shall Overcome.’ [W]e sang out all fatigue and fear, each connected by this bond of hands to each other, communicating an infinite love and sadness. A few voices tried to harmonize, but in the end the one true tune welled up on them and overcame. It was not the song for harmony; it meant too much to change its shape for effect. All the verses were sung, and if there had been more to prolong it, it would have been prolonged, no matter how late, how tired they were. Finally the tune was hummed alone while someone spoke a prayer, and the verse struck up again, ‘We shall overcome,’ with all the voice, emotion, hope, and strength that each contained. Together they were an army.”
Music pulls us together and not apart. We sing out all our fatigue or fear, or the pathos of music we just listen to pulls it to the surface-indie rock, or the blues, or “three chords and the truth” country, or a piece by a classical composer…. Music does this, and then it takes us deeper, it takes us deeper, it takes us to the spiritual longing in our heart of hearts for Love and for Life. “Music,” Beethoven once said, “is the mediator between the spiritual and the sensual.”
And this leads to the final thing I will say in my short homily today: that the power of music is, ultimately, a power to pull us together around the Sacred and the Holy. It is a power that reminds us over and over again, as we live lives that are torn up by personal hurt and loss and by the constant news of public violence and injustice, that there is a peace which passes understanding, there is a song of liberation and joy in our souls which will not be silenced by evil. As Unitarian Universalists who draw on Six Sources of spiritual insight and wisdom, we name this source of peace and liberation and joy in many ways. We call it the Spirit of Life. We call it Human Potential, or the Tao, or Goddess, or God. Some of us prefer some names over others; some of us love and honor them all. But we can never forget that they are all like fingers pointing at the moon, and we cannot confuse the one with the other. The different names all point to something wondrous, something abundant, something triumphant, and THIS is what we must never lose sight of. There is a peace that passes understanding, and we can connect to this peace instantly, if only we can receive it.
And so: the power of music, which is a power to help us receive. “In the act of hearing,” says W. A. Mathieu, “you experience a part of the creation that made you, something that has been alive from the very beginning, something you almost remember. Sometimes when you listen to music you could swear you actually do remember. The music lets you witness the original spark. Each tone becomes a metaphor for the moment of your origin. ‘You never lost it,’ the music says, ‘no matter how long it’s been gone. It’s here now, it’s here now.’ […] You are made of music-lonely music when you are lonely, vast music when you feel vast, even happy music sometimes. The whole stream of your life, already musical, is simply waiting for you to hear it.” This is what W. A. Mathieu says. Music pulls us together and not apart, and always, it is an invitation to receive into our minds something that our hearts have always known: we are made of music; we are born out of the miracle fires of creation; and we can choose to bear forth this miracle and this music into every moment and every day of our lives: to bless and not to curse, to heal and not to harm, to reconcile and not to cultivate resentment, to be the peace we wish to see in the world, to be this peace. This is what we can choose. Amen.