As a runner, I recognize that music has an effect on my emotional state and even on my psyche. I often run alone and love the solitude, peace, and recollection gained when running in silence—but there are times when I need music to lift me up and to motivate me. I don’t know what I would do without my marathon playlists. They have kept me going for 26.2 miles, helping me avoid thinking about whatever aches or pains I felt at the moment. On such runs the music not only encourages me—it literally keeps me moving forward.
I think this is true for the spiritual life, as well. We need the consistent silence that comes from time spent with God in prayer. At other times, music can help raise our minds heavenwards and bring into clearer focus what God might be trying to say to us.
I discovered Gregorian chant a few years ago when a friend gave me her CD featuring the sacred music of the Monks of Norcia. Sometimes I play the chants while I am working around the house or at the computer, and the music becomes a kind of sacred background sound. The chants calm me and I can more easily lift up my work to God.
Saint Augustine attested to the power of sacred music to move the soul. Once, while on a silent retreat for women, I heard what sounded like heavenly music as we finished adoration in the chapel. We had begun to sing “O Sacrament Most Holy, O Sacrament Divine,” and although I’m certain there were no professional voices in the group, I will never forget the angelic sound coming from those women. It truly moved my soul.
It is undeniable that, as human beings, we have a strong connection to music. Today, unfortunately, we are usually exposed to music that degrades and demoralizes.
We should ask ourselves:
What kind of music do I listen to?
What music do I allow in my car or my home?
Do I ever listen to sacred music and use it to seek an encounter with God?