Music and Art as Prayer


Going over older notes I found the quotes following below, which are by `Abdu’l-Bahá, who is the leading force of the so called Bahá’í Faith, one of the many areas of previous exploration. For those of you curious about Bahá’í Faith, it is a movement that departs from the premise that throughout history, God revealed Himself to humanity through a series of divine Messengers, whose teachings guide and educate us and provide the basis for the advancement of human society. These Messengers have included Abraham, Krishna, Zoroaster, Moses, Buddha, Jesus, and Muhammad. Their religions come from the same Source and are in essence successive chapters of one religion from God. Bahá’u’lláh, of whom the quotes below come, is the considered to be latest of these Messengers, brought new spiritual and social teachings for our time. His essential message is of unity. He taught the oneness of God, the oneness of the human family, and the oneness of religion. Bahá’í Faith was founded more than a century ago. (More about it can be read here >>>)

The art of music must be brought to the highest stage of development, for this is one of the most wonderful arts and in this glorious age of the Lord of Unity it is highly essential to gain its mastery. However, one must endeavour to attain the degree of artistic perfection and not be like those who leave matters unfinished. —
`Abdu’l-Bahá

Rejoice to hear that thou takest pains with thine art, for in this wonderful new age, art is worship. The more thou strivest to perfect it, the closer wilt thou come to God. What bestowal could be greater than this, that one’s art should be even as the act of worshipping the Lord? That is to say, when thy fingers grasp the paintbrush, it is as if thou wert at prayer in the Temple.
`Abdu’l-Bahá

At the time I could imagine the beauty of the concept but by now, as a Christian it has become more and more of a real  thing for  me. The connection of art, music and faith is not a new one. Throughout history many incredible artists have been associated with Christianity. A visit to most any museum or the Vatican will make it pretty much clear that Christianity has been an incredible inspiration for many (an the same applies by the way for other belief systems). The connection between art, music (and literature) has been strong throughout the centuries but for some reason especially in the case of the visual arts this seems to have been valued less valuable or important in the twentieth century and onwards. Where there was and is attention for it more than once is turns out to be market driven “copy-catting” or avant-garde elitism.

TRULY SERVANT BASED CREATIVITY appears to be a RARE OCCASION.

An initial hurdle appears to be posed by having arts seen as an actual profession. The concept of being a professional artist does not seem to come natural to everyone. Admittedly it is somewhat easier nowadays when you are into music or design, but how many of us know at least someone that got told “what about you try to get a real job” or “how about you first learn to do something useful.” In addition to this we all know probably one example of someone making it known to his pastor or reverend that he is an artist to be told that “the choir can always use more singers.” In that sense the church more than once appears to be a reflection of the material world, in which there is not always a place for the artist (other than music).

The life story of Van Gogh, one of my favourite Dutch artists is probably highly illustrative. Van Gogh was initially trained to be part of the Dutch pastorate. However, he found out early that he was not so-called “pastor material” or a “leader.” That is in the more traditional sense of the word.

At the same time however he longed deeply to serve with his gifts, it was just that the church had no place for him. Instead of accepting him and welcoming someone with such unique abilities and talents, he was cast aside and now, looking back, see what the church has lost with that.

Which brings us to the question: how can artists benefit their churches and is there a need to consider the possibility of a community based approach involving the local churches. That however will be subject of another post I guess, once ideas on that have crystallized out some more.

In this post I would like to concentrate more on the subject of music and art as a form of prayer.

Music and Art as Prayer

When I speak of music or art as an act of prayer, I think of active prayer. I think of an awareness that every act undertaken with a spiritual awareness will lead to a spiritual effect. The art or music becomes the way through which the artist prayer is manifested. It is important to understand that the music or art does not become prayer because of the the subject, symbolism, imagery of a particular creation. When I think of art or music as prayer I think of it as a conscious connection to God. Your studio, practice room, stage become a “temple,” a place of worship in which you are continuously trying to perfect the use of your skills as a way to glorify His name, a way to be taken to where he wants you to be, to BE who He wants you to be, guided by the Holy Spirit.

Therefore you will want to be at the top of your abilities i only to be able to respond as adequately as possible to His calling. Being at the peak of your abilities; is that not a great way to express your gratitude for your God given talent? Is that not a beautiful way to express the love of God, the beauty of His creation? Looking back at a long secular history, I have personally enjoyed noticing the difference, in fact  could probably admit that  the calling was there at all times but I was too busy with my own glory to see or hear his calling and His guidance.

Some of the experiences  associate with the connection:

  • Emotional responses to what I see, hear, play even. A deep sense of connection. The child-like experience is back, that sense of utter amazement of “wow” with what you hear and see.
  • A distorted sense of time or even the complete loss thereof.
  • The disappearance of self-consciousness so often reflected in a fear of failure.
  • Effort, focus, concentration, patience (which used to not be my strongest virtue), endurance, it all seems to come easy.
  • A renewed set of eyes and ears, a renewed type of inspiration that makes it possible to see differently, hear differently and process differently in the musical setting and as far as photography is concerned an eye for things that would go unnoticed before.
  • The separation between music and the musician (me) appears to vanish and at times it is as if the music plays by itself.
  • A deep sense of being in God.

The are challenges of course and I guess he biggest comes from your own ego: the belief that you are working for God instead instead of God working through you. This is where self-consciousness comes in and relating it back to a previous post on payer, this is where you are to busy talking to listen.

Nouwen: Prayer is first of all listening to God. It’s openness. God is always speaking; he’s always doing something. Prayer is to enter into that activity. … Prayer in its most basic sense is just entering into an attitude of saying, “Lord, what are you saying to me?”

Foster: The problem with describing prayer as speaking to God is that it implies we are still in control. But in listening, we let go. … The spiritual life is not something we add onto an already busy life. What we are talking about is to impregnate and infiltrate and control what we already do with an attitude of service to God.

Recently I wrote in response to a post on the very subject:

I notice His presence in the emotional responses, enhanced ability to hear and react/respond, loss of sense of time, a complete loss of self-consciousness an fear of failure, an intense feeling of joy/bliss without any personal pride. In short it is fantastic to have Him run the show.

The separation between musician and music seems to completely disappear and the music seems at times to be playing by itself. All I can say it it’s a great place to be.

Referring back to what was said by Nouwen and Foster and relating it back to the subject here it comes down to being quiet yourself and let God do the talking. As an artist this can only mean that you want to be at he best of your abilities if only to be able to fully express what God has to say, to you and through you.

Jason Upton’s song “In your Presence” is probably the best way to describe my thoughts and feelings and it actually illustrates the challenges as well:

Father I am waiting,
I need to hear from You.

To know that You’re approving
of what I say and do.

Cause nothing really satisfies
like when You speak my name.

So tell me that You’ll never leave
and everything will be okay.

In Your presence, all fear is gone, in Your presence.
In Your presence, is where I belong, in Your presence.

Father I’m returning
to things I used to do.

Cause somewhere on the journey
I think I lost hold of the truth.

But nothing really satisfies
like when You speak my name.

So tell me that You’ll never leave
and everything will be okay.

In Your presence, all fear is gone, in Your presence.
In Your presence, is where I belong, in Your presence.

(Lyrics found here>>>)

torically there appears to be a rise of the influence of the Gospel and with that a rise of its influence in the arts. This connection has been strong throughout the centuries but for some reason seem seems to have been valued less valuable or important in the twentieth century. Where there was and is attention for it more than once is turns out to be market driven “copy-catting” or avant-garde elitism. TRULY SERVANT BASED CREATIVITY appears to be a RARE OCCASION

Share

One thought on “Music and Art as Prayer

  1. Pingback: Photo Journal: Eye and Psalm 123 « The Desk of the Renaissance Man

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s