Music in Sacred Community

“Without music, life would be a mistake.” So wrote the famed philosopher, Nietzsche. I believe that music in sacred community is the medium which allows us to feel and to express our deepest emotions: joy, lament, awe and thanksgiving. Music in sacred community binds us together. Studies have shown that groups who make music together feel a certain kinship with each other, and leave that time of singing or drumming, playing instruments, etc. with their endorphins dancing, and their bodies humming with better health and vibrations. Surely when all of this is enhanced by words of hymns or songs, we can know that we have participated in a rich experience which has fed our souls.

There are many ways in which music can be meaningful in sacred community. Our friend Ian has conducted services focused on the music of Rita MacNeil and Anne Murray, two icons of the music world from Nova Scotia. (Since I am writing from N.S.) As well as Leonard Cohen and Gordon Lightfoot! Being a musician himself, he has the ability to present their songs, with the congregation joining on the chorus, in a context of why and how the song was written. Each of their music speaks to the everyday life of people, the traumas and the delights. Don and I felt we had gone deep into our inner beings and touched the ‘Spirit of Life.’

Music can be used for listening, meditation, or for complete appreciation of the gifts of brilliant composers and instrumentalists. When the notes soar with plaintive beauty or uplifting triumph we are lured into a different consciousness. Verdi’s opera “Nabucco” offers the heart-rending chorus “The Lament of the Hebrew Slaves” which evokes compassion and awareness of the plight of refugees around the world. I believe that people grow in their sense of awe as they are led to really hear good classical, or folk music.

What about the worship of God, or the Spirit of Life, the Energy of the Universe? There are many wonderful hymns or songs which can express gratefulness for this earth, for love and for the divine within and around us. Ruth Duck, Carolyn McDade, Peter Maher (“Everything is Holy Now”) Some of our hymns have excellent words and tunes. When Don and I lead

worship in various churches, sometimes the last hymn is “We Shall Go Out With Joy.” My partner often leaves me and dances down the centre aisle. Music has the ability to move body, mind and spirit.

Speaking of hymns, it is imperative that we examine the language before we use them in our gatherings. Integrity of theology, justice issues, gender equality, sensitivity to the Earth, etc. are priorities. Gretta Vosper often has groups work on “rewriting” or reworking hymns to favorite tunes.

My spiritual journey at this time is within the bosom of the Universe Story, so I have felt compelled to write songs about the Cosmic beauty and reality which is our common heritage and ethos. I want children to be singing about the wonder of animals and stars rather than “Jesus loves me”. We need to hearken back to the Big Bang, the sacrifice of our Mother Star when she exploded and gave us the atoms to produce the Sun and later our amazing planet Earth.

I hope that members of Sacred Communities will experiment and find delight in the many ways that music can enrich our gatherings and our lives. Being silent and letting a violin or drum solo speak to our hearts, or joining lustily in expressing the joys of our common life and divinity; this is what music in Sacred Community is all about. I will close with one of my songs that was used at the closing of the National Conference for Progressive Christianity in Halifax, N.S. last summer.

We are Travelling

We are travelling in an exquisite world, a world of cosmic origin. We are part of life in our universe, with stardust in our genes.

Travel on with me, my friend, Travel on with me! Growing in our consciousness, Sacred Mystery!

- Emily Kierstead

Review & Commentary

4 thoughts on “Music in Sacred Community

  1. Thank you Emily for such a delightful and inspiring article. I hope you and your work will continue to be seen, heard and discovered. I would love to be in a sacred gathering that closes with your song: We Are Traveling.

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