“David was playing the lyre, as he did day by day” (Samuel 18:10)
“Day and night without ceasing they sing: Holy, holy, holy, Lord God Almighty, who was and is and is to come” (Revelation 4:8).
Those in touch with God in their souls, both on earth and in heaven, feel the harmony of peace that often is expressed in song. For many millennia thoughtful people sensed and shared in a bond uniting religion, philosophy, mathematics and science with music. They believed that by singing or plucking certain chords or tones together, one could produce not only beautiful sounds, but vibrate with the planets and stars. The universe makes sense. Also, it reverberates in synchronization. It’s “on pitch.” They were sure of it. Just as certain that a God who set it forth with order and proportion created it all.
When I listen to what passes for music in contemporary society, I wonder if we’ve just lost that sense and sensitivity or worse, forgot that it ever existed. Now and then one reads the finding that students who are good in mathematics are frequently good musicians, and vice versa. That statement is presented as though it were a revelation. Solid scholars bring together what they learn in various disciplines. They make wholes out of parts. They recognize design in what others see only as random, disconnected phenomena.
Consider King David. In the above excerpt we’re told that he played the lyre frequently; yet we know that he was a man of action. He set out battling, outthinking and defeating Philistines. At the same time he knew how to soothe the adrenalin surge it takes to fight. He did it with music. King Saul did not have that ability. In just the next verse after the above quotation Saul hurls a lance at David, trying to pin him to the wall. Much later when David was himself king, he sinned horribly, adding murder to adultery; but he never lost perspective. By his grief and repentance he turned his inner chaos from despair to restoration in the sight of the Lord. With the aid of the Holy Spirit he was able like the Prodigal Son in Christ’s parable to return to the heavenly Father.
What did the evangelist and apostle John hear and behold when he was taken up into heaven on that glorious Sunday morning which he recorded in Revelation? The excerpt above offers us a preview. There we discover heavenly beings along with those humans like us singing without ceasing the praises of the Holy Trinity. Whatever else we have to look forward to after this lifetime is concluded, we will, God willing, be offered a place in that glorious chorus.
One self-evident corollary is the reason why the Orthodox Church sings, hymns and intones all the prayers and readings of our sacred worship. Even the gospel and epistle are chanted. Those who are honored to present those excerpts from the sacred scriptures know that they are given the blessing to lift up their voices with those who throughout the universe are reading the same texts in cathedrals, churches, chapels and monastic communities everywhere on earth. Nobody would dare insinuate his or her own rendition of the text by calling attention to his own interpretation of the passage. Whatever the vocal qualities he may possess, be he a heldentenor or basso profundo or she a soprano or contralto, the chanter of the sacred words is or ought to be in harmony with the pitch of the universe. The Church is not the place for divas or celebrities. Here is where one submerges his individuality and shares in the Spirit uniting us all into the family of the Lord.