Wednesday, 26 November 2008

Music and Light

Somewhere in the "enlightenment" we lost the light. We lost the numinous. We lost beauty and have only the media used, we lost the music and have only notes and rhythms, our poetry the words and structure. Nothing more. We lost joy, and glory, and are left with only apetite. We fall short of the glory of God, and now we don't even bother to make an idol: we just celebrate the short-fall.

Yet there is something in us, some testimony that rebels. Eternity in our hearts. Denying the numinous doesn't remove its existence. Andris Nelsons, CBSO conductor, said, "All of us need music and culture - it's food to the soul." Some great composers, he said, address civilisations, but Tchaikovsky (of this evening's concert) speaks to each of us personally, to our hearts.
I believe we have a physical body and a soul. It doesn’t matter what religion you are, whether or not you believe in God, I think people believe that there is a soul and a body. You need food for your body, you need to eat and exercise to satisfy your physical body, but there is a soul that needs to be satisfied too, and it can be satisfied of course through love, but for me music is the most beautiful form of satisfaction. Even going to a rock concert can do this, I wish I had time to go, but classical music fills me up and makes me happy. [Nelsons in a BBC interview.]
Thus music could so easily become an idol for me - for joy, glory, beauty, harmony; it stirs the soul. But music is not the highest goal or satisfaction. It is but a pale whisper on the outer edges of the reflection of the outskirts of the glory of God's creation. And music is a punishing idol. Nelsons remarked that never very far from a musician is the question, "To be or not to be?" It is an unending, unquenchable search for joy if limited to music. Is this it?

So how do I avoid idolatry when I feel the pull of the numinous in God's creation? Perspective. Looking through the created to glory in the Creator, for one thing. For another, just as I went into this evening's concert, I heard news from one of my CUs who ran a lunchtime event today for non-Christians - far beyond anyone's expectations, two dozen non-Christians came, and engaged with good questions, and asked for more such events. As I left the concert hall, I heard further that several non-Christian friends then also came to the CU meeting later, and one of these students may yet read Mark's gospel with a CU member. Beauty, joy, and truth? The numinous? Light? "This is eternal life, that they know you the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent." [John 17.3]


Anonymous said...

I know exactly what you mean about music. Sometimes I struggle with letting it become an idol - but you're right: it is only a pale shadow.

What do you mean about the enlightenment? Are you referring to something specific?

étrangère said...

It seemed to herald the belief in seeing through everything for scientific (= naturalistic) answers. But as Lewis said, if you see through everything, you see nothing at all: the point of seeing through something is to fix your gaze on something opaque beyond it. So I think we lost the numinous to naturalistic explanation: like "seeing through" the beauty of a painting by describing exactly which pigments are used in which quantities and how they blend, and how the optic nerves receive information from the rays of light on the retina to stimulate our brain to respond in certain... you get the idea? So we're 'enlightened' but we've lost the light.

Chris said...

what does numinous mean?

Alison Joy Young said...

Amen! (I also don't know what numinous means...but I think I got the gist and I wanted to offer a hearty Amen as it struck a chord with me!) - sorry if you don't know who I am...I'm not a weirdo, honest! I'm an ex-UCCF-ite who has migrated to the student work scene in Central Thailand! Have a feeling that in a couple of years I could feel similar to you: 'a stranger in England with a love for Thailand!'

étrangère said...

Hi Alison, lovely to hear from you. Comments always welcome, even from random people(!), but I did recognise your name :)

Funnily I hadn't got numinous pinned down - would just say something of the other, the transcendant, holy, or mysterious, but wiki turned up with, "Numinous is a Latin term coined by German theologian Rudolf Otto to describe that which is wholly other. The numinous is the mysterium tremendum et fascinans that leads in different cases to belief in deities, the supernatural, the sacred, the holy, and the transcendent."

Alison Joy Young said...

well that clears that up! (If numinous can ever really be cleared up...) Thanks!

Oldfield - why didn't you just look it up yourself!? Commenting about it was more funny however, so I'll let you off.