I was recently asked to write an article for the Valyermo Chronicle, our monastery's quarterly magazine. So, I thought I would share it here, since it has to do with sacred music.
Fr Angelus ~
“FATHER, YOUR MUSIC IS HEALING.”Someone said this to me recently about my compositions. While reflecting on this comment, I felt thankful she shared this experience and I was inspired to write a few words on the subject of music and healing, because music has been a constant, healing balm for me throughout my entire life. I can imagine many of you have shared this experience. I have experienced the healing power of music as it has healed me as well, in varying ways at various times. Times such as the compositional process, in active or passive listening of music, in its performance, whether in a concert setting or at liturgy. Some may recognize and agree that music written with no preconceived meaning can still make us feel good. For listeners, who are also believers, this exploration concerns the healing aspect unique to sacred music.
If you research the healing power of music, you will find scientific articles supporting music’s ability to heal, both physically and emotionally. You will also find, to a lesser degree, articles on Music Therapy (a career I had looked into prior to entering monastic life), a discipline which specializes in this type of therapeutic healing. However, the majority of sources on this topic are found in esoteric-type articles about “consciousness heightening” and “deepening levels of awareness of self” through music. Finally, you will stumble upon plenty of “New-Age” sources, which seem to almost divinize the music itself, turning it into something quasi-spiritual, giving it a magical power. Not much will be found, however, about sacred music’s healing power. Evenless frequently will one find the Catholic perspective in writings, leaving it unfamiliar and hard to imagine it could ever have a healing effect.
Music is a blessing, as it is a reflection of the harmonic spectrum that exists in nature. We know this through the study of Acoustics (the science of sound). For example, we can detect the melodic and rhythmic patterns produced by bird song, we feel the rumbling of distant thunder, and experience it through the phenomena of the echo effect or in the “howling” of winds. Similarly, if the soothing white noise of ocean surf can be experienced, the same applies to anything capable of producing a sound. In nature, one can always find or feel vibration. It is ordered, proportionate, and sensed by us. We humans are physiologically affected by both random sound as well as organized sound (i.e. music). Regardless of the form, it does something to us. Generally, the effects of music are a positive and beneficial experience, though there also exist forms of music detrimental to our spiritual health, in that these forms might lead us away from God in its message, its mood-altering ability, or for simply having been heard.
By way of example, when I suffered from anxiety, listening to Renaissance choral music produced a palpable change within me, leaving a sense of stability and hopefulness, as if the music were caressing my frightened heart. Whether people are traversing a personal or a universal crisis, sacred music can bring healing and comfort to us in our need. And just as Jesus brought comfort and healing to those who sought him, if allowed, sacred music, too, may heal. If we embrace sacred music as an extension of God’s ability to heal, this gift may be brought into our lives readily at any time, any place. Just as this tangible hopefulness has the ability to awaken a dormant, cherished dream where we find ourselves re-stabilized and resolved, sacred music, if experienced as divinely delivered, may also heal, allowing us to be drawn closer to God. It is for these reasons, that sacred music is a gift for which we may give thanks and say,
“Father, Your music is healing.”