Franciscan Spirit Blog

Let Us Pray: Music As Prayer

Photo by Suzy Hazelwood: photo/black-audio-tapes-in-close-up-view

When I was young—but old enough to know better—one of my hobbies was pilfering loose change from my parents’ pockets or from the sofa and collecting it in my bedroom. Unlike most 8-year-olds, I wasn’t going to buy baseball cards or video games. The money was going to music.

On one occasion, after I amassed a then-staggering $9, my mother took me to Globe Records, a now-defunct store not far from our home. I’ll never forget its interior. It was dingy and poorly lit. Tattered posters of rock bands covered the walls. The hardwood floors looked war-ravaged; the patrons who shuffled around looked like the Island of Misfit Toys. As a young suburbanite, I didn’t belong there. But I loved it.

Eager to expand my collection of cassette tapes, I made a beeline for the new releases with one purchase in mind: “Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This)” by Eurythmics. I had heard the song weeks before and was awestruck. Annie Lennox sounded like nothing my young ears had ever heard. She wrote about themes that didn’t make sense to my young mind, but I loved what I was hearing. I had the tape in my Walkman and played it on a loop.

To this day, I still search for Eurythmics’ signature song on Apple Music when I exercise or I’m in the car. Technology has changed radically in the last few decades, but the feeling of that song sends me back to my childhood bedroom.

God Is in the Notes

“Sweet Dreams,” however, wasn’t where my love for music began. Since infancy, my parents had music playing in the house. Their stereo was framed in wood and looked a mile long with dark-yellow speakers. It was both ugly and beautiful, filling my home with music that felt like centering prayer.

I knew the lyrics to nearly every song on Fleetwood Mac’s Rumours before I could read. I was conscious of Motown, Bob Seger, Elton John, Crosby, Stills & Nash, the Beatles, Simon & Garfunkel, and Steely Dan before I knew who the sitting president was. Music—from Nina Simone to New Jack Swing—has always been in the background. As I write this, in fact, Miles Davis’ “Kind of Blue” hums quietly from my Bluetooth speaker.

High school and college were my contemplative years, when Nirvana, U2, Soundgarden, Sinéad O’Connor, and James were on heavy rotation. I thought I was terribly deep then: I’d close the blinds in my bedroom, light the patchouli (to the revulsion of my family), listen to Alice in Chains, and ride the waves of my faux angst.

As a Gen-Xer, music was never so much a protest as it was an exercise in contemplation or celebration. While much of the music from the ’60s was countercultural, in my era it was about introspection—or fun.

Just as the choir at Sunday Mass can lift a congregation with its music, we’re just as close to the divine when we’re listening to the pounding riffs of jazz or the subtle oratorios of a choir. God is in the notes.

Now, as I am nearing 50, my tastes have shifted. I still listen to artists from my parents’ era and my own, but my playlist has diversified. I can’t pass on the opportunity to listen to Arcade Fire, Clare Maguire, or Bon Iver. I confess to even making time for millennials: artists like Harry Styles, Rosa Linn, and Billie Eilish. Though my tastes have changed, my love for song is stronger than ever. I feel centered when I’m listening to it, closer to a holier place.

Music takes me back, holds me in the moment, and inspires hope for the future—all at once. I need only close my eyes and listen. Sweet dreams are made of this.

Let Us Pray

God of music,
I can find you
in the song
of a bird,
the harmonies of
a band,
or the wails of a blues singer.
Let me never
forget that your
grace can be found
in any sound that
calms my weary heart.
In those notes,
your love awaits.

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14 thoughts on “Let Us Pray: Music As Prayer”

  1. I like the article. It takes you from the mundane to the divine in a very genuine and clear way. Food for thought.

  2. Great article, I can totally relate. Even as we speak I hear strains of Grover Washington Junior playing in my background…

  3. Eleanor Brundage

    I love singing as I am in prayer especially on Sunday. I’d chat the liturgy of hours and my Christian roommate loved to hear the melodies as I’m in prayer. This article helps to remind us to always participate in the music liturgy as best as we can.

  4. Donna Rogers Kranich

    Love this post and little poem. I agree music transports us to other realms–whether it’s during our daily grind or in seeking the divine. Well said!

  5. Br. Kevin Gusty Todd

    Part of my own spiritual practice has come to involve long-distance running while listening to Love-themed music (because God is Love itself). Sometimes a particular song I’ve heard many times before will unfold itself in a new, beautiful way—telling me something about the Reality of Love I never experienced before. In these moments when my heart is opened by the Holy Spirit, I will play the song over and over until it stops feeding my heart and mind. Praise God for the many ways He communicates Himself to us!

    God’s love to you, and our own

  6. I agree that God is found in all kinds of music. For those who had music playing throughout your childhood: you are lucky.

  7. Some of the artists you mention send me back! I saw Elton John in concert in NYC in the 70s. I still think about it and often return to music of that era. This was a great meditation.

  8. Music speaks to the spirit – it is the spirit that “gives life” awakening in our bodies the “rhythm of God”. Try standing still while listening to or singing “I Danced in the Morning”/” Lord of the Dance” ? I, like the author, I too was nurtured in a home where music abounded be it on the radio (uninterrupted), my very own record player, the stereo supporting the music from Mm and Dad’s era or the songs we sang on our family excursions. As old as many of them are I can still sing and hum them verbatim – precious memories and moments of profound gratitude as God’s presence continually renews!

    1. Dave, you just kicked me back to the early 1950’s. At St. John’s school we had Gregorian Chant practice for an hour every week. I can’t sing any better now than I did then but it is a great memory.
      I personally am a Bob Dylan fan (in his Christmas album he sounds like Jimmy Durante).
      Thanks for the memories.
      Jim Myres, OFS

  9. Prabhakar Dung dung

    I passionately listen to music, now-a-days mostly religious. I’m from India. Though most of them are in Hindi language but sometimes I listen to other regional languages too. A feeling of perfect happiness !

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