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To the Trinity be praise!
God is music, God is life
that nurtures every creature in its kind.
Our God is the song of the angel throng
and the splendor of the secret ways
hid from all humankind,
But God our life is the life of all.
-Hildegard of Bingen, Antiphon for the Trinity
Hildegard believed that music was an essential part of her community’s formation. In fact, at the end of her life she was in conflict with church authorities over a man who was buried on their property and she was more upset at being banned from singing than she was at not being able to receive communion.
J.S. Bach is one of my favorite classical composers. He signed all of his musical compositions “SDG” meaning Soli Deo Gloria or to the Glory of God alone. Music has an incredible power in our lives that perhaps originates from our very heartbeat, that primordial life-sustaining rhythm. Have you ever heard a song you loved and played it over and over again? I invite you to use lectio divina as a way of praying with music.
Lectio helps us to listen for the ways God speaks to us in the world. I suggest choosing music without words at first, because words add another layer of meaning to the experience. Try praying with just the sounds of instruments or vocalization. One of the pieces of music I love most is Bach’s Six Suites for Solo Cello. The cello is an instrument for me that expresses deep wordless longing. I often use one of the movements when I introduce people to this way of praying. You can click on this link and scroll down to the 7th selection and download the Prelude from the 2nd Suite for Solo Cello played by Nathaniel Rosen (unfortunately the streaming link is broken). The piece is about 4:40 long, or you can choose another piece of music you feel drawn to pray with.
Prepare for your lectio prayer by finding a quiet place and take some time to settle yourself into stillness and rest in silence. Breathe deeply and be present to your body. Become aware of the sacredness of this time you have set aside to be present to God.
The first moment in lectio is reading God’s word. As in praying with icons, we are dealing with an entirely different kind of sacred “text.” Play the piece of music once to enter into its landscape. Notice the sounds of the notes and silences between them, rest into the movement of the music. Be present to how it rises and falls in your body and imagination. Allow the music to fill you, breathing it in. Slowly become aware if there is a dominant sound or image or feeling that is calling to you in this initial experience. Rest with that image or feeling, taking it in and being fully present to it
Play the music a second time. This time while listening allow the sound or image or feeling that first called to you to draw you more deeply into the experience of it. Allow it to unfold in your imagination and notice what memories, feelings, images or other sounds are evoked. Notice how the experience of listening to the music touches you and how you might express that touch. Hold the awareness of how the music is flowing through you and what is being evoked.
Play the music a third time. This time focus on how your heart wants to respond to being touched. What is the invitation present in the unfolding of sounds, images, memories, and feelings for you today? How is God speaking to your life in this moment through this music? What is the “yes” within you that is longing to be expressed? If you feel comfortable, take a moment to express with your voice what you are experiencing in your body. It might be a simple sound or a line from a song or something you have created in the moment.
Resting with God
Spend some time resting in silence and releasing the sounds, feelings, and images that are stirring in you. Close your eyes for a few minutes and rest in the stillness in simple awareness of God’s presence. Allow yourself some time to simply be.
When you have come to the end of your prayer time you may want to play the music again and just experience it anew from the other side of the lectio time. Notice if anything else stirs in you and offer a prayer of thanks for the gift of this time and for God’s presence in beauty and stillness.
Praying with music is a very different experience from praying with words or images. We might call this way of praying audio divina or sacred listening.
In response to your encounter with music you may want to explore using sound to express what happened in your prayer experience. What does your “yes” to God sound like this day?
-Christine Valters Paintner