Birds flying from trees
Franciscan Spirit Blog

Music as Prayer

Jul 23, 2021
Walkman music player | Photo by Florian Schmetz on Unsplash
Music takes me back, keeps me in the present, and inspires hope for the future—all at once.

When I was young—but old enough to know better—one of my hobbies was pilfering spare change from my parents’ pockets. I’d collect the coins in a Mason jar under my bed for weeks. Unlike most 8-year-olds, the money wasn’t going to candy, baseball cards, or video games. It 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 like the Island of Misfit Toys. I didn’t belong there—and 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 the Eurythmics. I had heard the song weeks before and was awestruck. Annie Lennox sounded like nothing my 8-year-old ears had ever heard. I had the tape in my Walkman and played it on a loop. To this day, I still search for the Eurythmics’ signature song on Apple Music when I exercise. Technology has changed radically in the last few decades, but the feeling of that song sends me back to my childhood bedroom.

 

Sweet Dreams

However, “Sweet Dreams” wasn’t where my love for music began. Ever since I could remember, my parents had music playing in the house. I knew the lyrics to every song on Fleetwood Mac’s “Rumours” before I could read. I was conscious of Motown, Bob Seger, Elton John, Crosby, Stills & Nash, Carole King, 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.

High school and college were my contemplative years, when Nirvana, U2, Tracy Chapman, Sarah McLachlan, Tori Amos, and James were on steady rotation. I’d close the blinds in my bedroom, light the patchouli (to the revulsion of my parents), listen to “The Joshua Tree,” and ride the waves of my faux angst.

Now, as I am well into my 40s, 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. My tastes may have shifted, but 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.


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Comments

john
Fri, 07/23/2021 - 08:33 AM
john
I play my songs on Random from divine to 1950s to 2020s and classical. if i hear a song i haven't heard for ages that grabs me, I stop everything and listen....the emotion is overwhelming. my 8 year old asks me why i am crying. i answer because the song is so beautiful. i have him singing "Gather your people O Lord" as my ring tone, my wife got him to sing it when he was 4 years old! enjoy your music and thank God for beauty.
Jason
Fri, 07/23/2021 - 09:17 AM
Jason
Music brings me close to God. Thank you for this meditation. 🙏
Arlene B. Muller
Fri, 07/23/2021 - 09:53 AM
Arlene B. Muller
I have ALWAYS loved music, but my musical tastes are for contemporary Liturgical music, contemporary Christian music, music from Broadway musicals (especially those by Rodgers & Hammerstein & Lerner & Lowe & also LES MISERABLES), country music, & "easy listening". When I was a newborn my Dad noticed I was waving my arms to the music on the radio & exclaimed that I was going to be musically inclined. We loved to sing in our family & singing became my means of expressing my feelings--my Mom used to say she always knew my mood by what I was singing. I was blessed to take piano lessons from 2nd grade until I began high school & my parents bought the piano. I was in Glee Club in high school. After graduation from high school I got a guitar & took a few months of guitar lessons. As I became an adult I found that music--especially contemporary Liturgical music--became an important way that the LORD communicated with me. During my first retreat in the midst of a faith crisis in 1981, when I was in my late 20s, the song "YOU ARE NEAR" came to mind during my prayer in the chapel & I was amazed when Sister Anna Maria played it during Morning Prayer the next day. This gift of music grew when I came into the music ministry of my Catholic Charismatic prayer group, a parish Folk Group, opportunities to play & sing with preschool children with special needs as part of my work (I even wrote a song for them & also adapted existing children's songs to fit the themes of the lessons) & now a parish choir that includes hymns from our tradition & the best of contemporary Liturgical music & contemporary Christian choral pieces. Singing is my favorite way to pray. Singing & listening to music, especially contemporary Liturgical & contemporary Christian music, gives me joy & peace. I also love when a secular song can be applied to God. I listen to contemporary Christian music radio stations in my car. Music is an integral part of my life & my faith journey. I thank GOD for music!
Leon Budziszewski
Fri, 07/23/2021 - 03:52 PM
Leon Budziszewski
That comment about how music takes you back, holds you in the moment, and inspires hope for the future.... I know EXACTLY what you mean. I can't explain it, but I know that I know it!
Christopher Heffron
Fri, 07/23/2021 - 11:18 PM
Christopher Heffron
Thanks, brother!
Tanya
Fri, 07/23/2021 - 08:14 PM
Tanya
Yes! Music feeds my soul.. it has sustained me during the pandemic and I thank God for giving me ears to listen.
david
Sat, 07/24/2021 - 03:38 PM
david
I play musical instruments and that is my meditation. I am focused and concentration helps me be closer to the Truth of Life.

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