A colleague once asked an intriguing question: “What song would you like to have played at your funeral?” I’ve since taken the question and used it somewhat playfully in various small groups. What stands out for me as I consider the question, and other people’s response to it, is that music preference is deeply personal, and that certain kinds of music and songs are experienced as restorative, life-giving, and life affirming.
I notice in my music and song preference an attraction to dark poetics. I draw energy from songs that say something about depth and that make space for me to engage emotions that relate to the shadow sides of human existence. Songs that articulate feelings of despair, disillusionment, frustration and anger at disparity, inequity, corruption and so on. Far from being depressed by such music I experience it as cathartic, as if someone else has validated my private sense of bewilderment and struggle with all that is not right or good in the world and within myself. What I also love about heavy rock/metal/rap hybrid and so on is the element of energy and celebration. Taking a dark topic or theme, naming, and validating its reality and then using it as basis for dance, movement, action, and energy. In a sense, taking the worst of what life throws at us and rather than being defeated by it, utilising its raw material for an expression of resilience and joy.
This may or may not make sense to you. The music that naturally feeds my soul and brings me back to life may for you have the effect of fingernails across the proverbial blackboard. My song is my song, your song is your song. We share in common the medium of music as restorative, calming, uplifting, energising, but the kind of songs and music that affect each of us may be radically different. What is bread of life to you may be kryptonite to me.
The phenomenology of musical experience is deeply personal. My relationship with that song, even if it does have 16 million views, is unique. Same song, different relationship.
This plays into an important spiritual theme – the approach of the divine to each human being as unique, personal, intimate, sacred. The psalms say it so well: The Lord is my shepherd, I lack nothing. He makes me lie down in green pastures, he leads me beside quiet waters, he refreshes my soul (23:1-3, NIV). For each of us the approach of God is unique. We are wired differently; our journey of discernment is to explore and name those spaces and places that truly bring us home to ourselves and that renew the deep soul energy or song of our lives.
Where are you and what are you doing, or not doing, when you sense that you’re in that place? Perhaps your sources of spiritual life may seem strange and unpalatable for another? Perhaps what others find spiritually restorative does not chime with your spirit. Same mystery, different relationship. What does it look like for you right now to go outside and play into the green pastures and beside the still waters? The point of the pasture metaphor is that it offers freedom of space and movement – it’s a wide field, not a crowded, stuffy room. You can breathe out there. Jesus beckons, your song is playing, can you hear the music?