Worship is about seeking a connection. It can be about seeking a connection with others in the physical worship space, a connection with the meditations of one’s own heart, and a connection with a greater purpose, power, or understanding. To come to a greater level of connection and understanding with something one does not fully understand (for example: God), it seems unlikely that the connection and answers will be found in something that which one fully understands. Therefore, music is the necessary bridge between the known and the unknown and is the connector in worship that so many people cling to for a glimpse into whatever it is they are looking for.
This fall in our music history course at St. Olaf College we have been discussing where music comes from. There is something unique and captivating about music that is unlike mere speech. The sounds and traits of music and song can express so much more than the words of a song alone. This extra quality music carries has been attributed throughout the world by many cultures to different things including sounds from nature such as the Suyá tradition of attributing music as coming from nature through people’s spirits living with the birds.1
In addition to providing a mystery in worship of where it comes from, music also carries with it a mysterious bridge between Earth and Heaven. Often in denying oneself of worldly needs or pleasures (for example fasting or choosing to “give something up” during the Christian season of Lent before Easter), worship and religious practices aim to remind people of the impermanence of their bodies and life on earth. According to an article by Bruce Holsinger, in medieval theology it is understood that the less one gives into one’s senses and worldly desires, the closer that person may be to God.2 For example, St. Augustine wrote in his confessions of his pleasure for sound that he was aware of the “danger that lies in gratifying the senses.” Music in worship has the unique ability to both gratify our worldy senses and desires while still connecting our temporary lives on earth to the greater and larger hope of Heaven or life after death.
It is difficult to imagine worship without music. Music is a strong connector between Earth and Heaven, impermanence and permanence, humanity and God. The mysterious qualities that give music power appeal to both the innate human desires and the quest for understanding of a higher power. Universally music has been that bridge and connector in hopes of getting a tiny bit closer to understanding something greater than life on Earth.