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Sunday, August 08, 2010

Modern Magic

Who doesn't like music? Okay, I'm sure there are a few, but the love of music is almost universal. I would guess that most people can't actually give a reason for this. They just like music. Maybe it's because of the way it makes them feel. Maybe it's because "it moves me". There are other vague reasons, but I suspect that the real reason is much deeper. I think it's because music is magic.

I'm not trying to get fantastic here. I'm not actually suggesting genuine magic. But I believe that music has effects on us of which we aren't really aware. You get a hint of this in the Bible. Music is one of the early inventions mentioned in Scripture, even before the forgers of bronze and iron. One of the more interesting stories is the one about King Saul who was tormented by an evil spirit. He hired David to help him. "Whenever the evil spirit from God was upon Saul, David took the lyre and played it with his hand. So Saul was refreshed and was well, and the evil spirit departed from him" (1 Sam 16:23). King David was known for designing musical instruments. Solomon ordered the use of music in the Temple. Several places in Revelation speak of music in heaven. The entire book of Psalms is a hymn book. And Dr. Bruce Leafblad holds that, as much of the Old Testament books are written in poetry form, it follows that most of their messages were sung. Music is a part of the Bible.

Modern studies have much to suggest about the effects of music. According to, music can assist in pain management, blood pressure management, regulation of the heart, post-stroke recovery, headaches, the immune system, the IQ, memory, athletic performance, coordination, fatigue, productivity, sleep, and depression. (If you've never tried it, try putting Bible verses to music and see how easily you can memorize them. Really amazing.) Music is powerful stuff ... nearly magic. (For another interesting article on the amazing effects of music, try this one by Laurence O'Donnell.)

Think about it. Music has the ability to make your body move in ways that are not natural. I mean, when else do you tap your foot except to a lively beat in music? Certain rhythms seem to sneak in and make your body want to move even without you being conscious of it. Or how about the first time you heard the theme music from Jaws? Did you really need to know that there was something dangerous coming to feel the ominous danger just from that music? Music can directly bypass the brain and go directly to the emotions, lifting spirits or creating tension. William Congreve wrote, "Music has charms to soothe the savage breast." (Okay, he spelled it with a "k" -- musick -- and, indeed it was "savage breast", not "beast" like so many suppose, but you know you've heard it.) Mickey Hart, the well-known drummer from the Grateful Dead wrote that music has such a capacity to influence without conscious recognition that the musician has a solemn duty to use that tool with great care.

We tend these days to take music lightly. It's ... fun. It's entertainment. It's just fine. What's the big deal? But the Bible says something quite amazing about music: "Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God" (Col 3:16). Now when was the last time you heard anyone "teach and admonish" using music? When was the last time a worship leader in church used the music to teach? Have you ever heard anyone "reprove gently but earnestly" (the definition of "admonish") with song? You see, music really is, in a sense, magic. It has the capacity to engage your whole being. It can make you move. It can affect your heart rhythms and your blood pressure. It can slip into your emotions unawares and make you feel things. It can turn a crowd of carefree teenagers into an angry mob or turn an angry mob into a peaceful gathering. It can recall lost memories. It can also engage your brain to teach and admonish. This is the powerful device that God designed for us. He even commanded its use. In a world of materialism and humanism ruled by the god of science, wouldn't it be a wonderful idea to remember and engage this magical marvel called "music" as God intended -- to teach and admonish?

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