From: Music As Prayer
During this time of economic distress I find myself reading the business section of the newspaper with a degree of interest I have never before taken in such matters. Being a rank amateur when it comes to economics and often puzzled by the technical terms, I plow through editorials and analyses hoping to gain at least a small grasp of the causes and possible solutions. But there is always a sharp debate about policies and strategies, and there are even profounder questions about whether or not we ought to try to return to the consumer-based economy that has fed our prosperity since World War II.
Amidst all of the financial turmoil and the toll it is taking on millions of families, individuals, and communities, I did a presentation for an annual organist / clergy dinner. I spoke, and the group sang hymns related to the presentation. Two of the musicians provided accompaniment. The playing was impeccable – perfect tempi and breath-friendly phrasing. I came away reflecting on all the discipline, years of study, and practice it takes to play with that much artistry. The next day while I was reading about bailouts and unemployment rates, the music was still sounding in my heart. I could hear the playing and the singing of the church musicians and their clergy colleagues. It was a grateful memory of deep beauty. But what does such beauty have to do with the subprime mortgage crisis and home foreclosures? Nothing and everything!
Beauty is irrelevant if we are trying to figure out how to navigate these perilous times and how to make wise decisions about our personal finances and our direction as a nation. You can graph financial returns on a chart, but beauty does not lend itself to quantification. You can make a judgment on the soundness of an investment based on a reliable rate of return over time, but beauty does not give you a dividend check to cash. Yet beauty has everything to do with reclaiming and sustaining a sense of the eternal significance of human life. When our self-worth as individuals and as a nation has become obsessively intertwined with wealth, we need reminding of other non-quantifiable measures of meaning, such as beauty and the wonder that beauty awakens in our hearts and minds.
Beauty and wonder are the very qualities that filled my heart as I sang with those musicians and clergy. Such beauty does not lessen our concern for those who are suffering anxiety and material deprivation because of the financial crisis. Indeed, beauty does the opposite. By renewing within us the irrepressible resilience of the divine vitalities, beauty supplies energy to deal with the strenuous challenges of our time. Beauty does not displace compassion or action; beauty feeds compassion and action.
Why should churches budget money for musical instruments, directors, and performers in a time of financial stress? Because, as Christ said to the tempter when he was asked to turn stones into bread, “One does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God,” (Matthew 4:4). Every word of God includes not only the petition, “Give us this day our daily bread,” but also the prayer of the psalmist, “to behold the beauty of the Lord, and to inquire in his temple,” (Psalm 27:4). Of course, we live by bread. Of course, the financial crunch matters to all of us. But we need beauty as much as we need bread. It would be cruel if just when people were desperate for some glimmer of meaning and hope, the church faltered by starving them for beauty. Beauty is balm to the wounded and world-wearied souls that are coming to church during these troubled times. When we play or sing or direct beautiful music, we are offering a ministry of healing. Beauty does nothing for the Dow Jones Industrial Average, but it lifts the heart on wings of hope and wonder.