‘Unlike the eyes, the ears have no lids.’ I heard that on a podcast this week and the sentence fascinated me. It would seem that while we’re made so that we can block out the visual – shut our eyes – we live in sound, like fish swimming in water. Now of course once seen an image may be permanently in the brain but we have more choice about what we see than what we hear. The podcast was on the power of music and its ability to track us down and its ability to affect us – get inside of us. Like the Sirens’ call, music gets inside of us and leads us away from whatever we were doing.
I was so intrigued by the quote that I looked it up. It is from a book called ‘Music, Madness, and the Unworking of Language’ by John Hamilton. I was able to find the page and was intrigued by the paragraph it was in – my mind had been thinking how this sentence does – and doesn’t – ring true theologically. Hamilton is talking about music and its ability to affect us and because we hear so much we can be also distracted as well. Music affects our thinking – interrupts our thoughts – disturbs our freedom to think. He then cites a criticism by Immanuel Kant which is quite apropos to my world. ‘Those who have recommended the singing of spiritual songs as part of the domestic rites of worship have not considered that by such a noisy (and precisely for that reason usually pharisaical) form of worship they have imposed a great inconvenience on the public, for they have compelled the neighbourhood either to join in their singing or to give up their own train of thought ’ (emphasis in
the original). Kant’s world of the village church and its song permeating the surroundings is not that common in our era where people so often wear earpieces attached to portable sound carriers
but his observation that music transports us to another place or time (all in our heads) is very true. We hear a lullaby and feel secure. The Muslim hears the call to prayer over the speakers and is devout. We read the account of the Christmas Eve truce in 1914 when British and German soldiers downed guns and met in no man’s land but which began with the singing of ‘Still Nacht’ and we can understand it happening. We get this! Deeply.
And yet we’ve also undoubtedly been asked ‘Didn’t you hear me?’. The ears heard I’m sure but somehow we didn’t. It might be easier to block out the spoken voice – music might better worm its way through to us – but we all also have the experience of not hearing. Perhaps that is what our sin did to us – deafen us from the inside – gave us the ability not to hear even if our ears work. When we sinned we in fact did die – died to the Word – died to the Word which is God and the Word which is the Word made flesh. We just don’t know we’re spiritually deaf or spiritually dead. We’re too busy trying to get people to listen to us!
God’s Word cuts through even death where our words bounce off. Jesus called through death to Lazarus and brought him back to life. God’s Word by the power of the Holy Spirit can bring life from death. Perhaps that is why music is so powerful and we cherish our hymns and songs and carols and cantatas and chorales – because the music ‘gets through’ to us so that we hear the words God wants us to hear finally – for the first time – daily. I love you! — GS