God’s Musical Gifts

Song of Solomon 2:11-12

Trying to buy a fitting mother’s day gift produced some stress and anxiety for many in our congregation. Here are some rules that may help next year’s shopping stress:

1. Do not buy anything that plugs in. Anything that requires electricity is seen as utilitarian.

2. Do not buy clothing that involves sizes. You do not want her to say, “Do I look that big?” or “I have not been that size in years!”

3. Avoid all things useful. The new silver polish advertised to save hundreds of hours is not going to win you any brownie points.

4. Do not buy anything that involves weight loss or self-improvement.

5. Do not buy jewelry. The jewelry your wife wants, you can’t afford. And the jewelry you can afford, she doesn’t want.

6. And do not buy undergarments.

7. Finally, do not spend too much. “How do you think we’re going to afford that?” she’ll ask. But don’t spend too little. She won’t say anything, but she’ll think, “Is that all I’m worth?” (Herb Forst in Cross River, in Reader’s Digest)

One of my gifts was giving my wife a break from two of our three children by bringing them to a New Trier varsity boys’ volleyball game. The warm-ups included very loud music- so loud that my first grader and three year old were holding their ears and closing their eyes. I took them outside for an explanation of why the athletes needed loud music to feel energized for the game. You can imagine how the conversation went, and how difficult it was to explain not only the need for loud music, but the type of music. They wondered why Deep and Wide wouldn’t have been as effective.

We are so aware of how music affects us, especially our children. My generation supports the Baby Einstein learning programs and has made them extremely successful. If a toy, DVD, or CD claimed to accelerate a baby’s development, the product went right into the shopping cart. At some level this music will make a difference, we believe, and that belief appears in every culture. Plato wrote about music in the Laws and other dialogues. Shakespeare often wrote about music’s effects on troubled spirits. Ecclesiastes states that music was designed to promote joy (Eccl. 2). 1 Samuel 16 includes a story about an evil spirit leaving King Saul whenever David played his harp. Jesus saw the flute players in Matthew 9 on his way to the house. Many have set the beautiful Psalms to modern tunes. God’s gift of music is a prayerful connection to the spiritual in life.

It is widely accepted that listening to classical music can improve one’s relaxation, concentration, and reduce stress. The Mozart Effect was a study that showed classical music makes one smarter. The results have been difficult to replicate with that particular study’s approach. However, there has been some recent research that shows that we are just learning how powerful music’s effects can be.

‘’Listening to finer music and attending concerts on a consistent basis makes your real age about four years younger,’’ Dr. Michael F. Roizen — the chief wellness officer of the Wellness Institute at the Cleveland Clinic, said recently. ‘’Whether that’s due to stress relief or other properties, we see decreases in all-cause mortality, reflecting slower aging of arteries as well as cancer-related and environmental factors.”

Vera Brandes, the director of the research program in music and medicine at the Paracelsus Private Medical University in Salzburg, Austria, has even developed music that could be prescribed. The prescription would include a small listening device with the music programmed in. It will be introduced in Germany and Austria in the fall of 2009 anticipating the U.S. launch in 2010.

Stefan Koelsch, a senior research fellow in neurocognition of music and language at the University of Sussex in Brighton, England is working on musical treatments for depression that would be used for this new “medication,” so others have recognized and given credibility to this.

The musical treatment goes beyond mood to our body. Dr. Mike Miller, the Director of Preventive Cardiology at the University of Maryland Medical Center; in Baltimore did a study that found humor has a positive effect upon our hearts. He continued his research using music and discovered that after listening to music for 30 minutes, his patients’ hearts produced protective chemicals. Using an ultrasound, he discovered that the blood vessels in the arm expanded an average of 25%, a percentage akin to the change that happens during aerobic activity! When the patients listened to music they did not like, the vessels constricted. The Mayo Clinic already uses music as part of its recovery program.

The Oliver Sacks book Musicophilia: Tales of Music and the Brain is a collection of music and brain stories. The prolific neurologist begins the book with a story from Arthur C. Clarke’s novel Childhood’s End that depicts aliens looking down upon humanity trying to figure out music because they were a species without music. Sacks wonders whether there are humans who may, like the aliens, be unable to enjoy music. For most, “music has great power, whether or not we seek it out or think of ourselves as particularly ‘musical.’ This propensity to music shows itself in infancy, is manifest and central in every culture, and probably goes back to the very beginnings of our culture…. It lies so deep in human nature that one must think of it as innate.”

Sacks writes that church contains the essence of what music is all aboutbringing people together. God gave us music to enrich and heal our minds and bodies, and also to unite and inspire our communities. Today our choir sang Mozart so well- we could almost feel some of what the composer felt- the emotion that music contains and its transmittal to us can definitely be described as spiritual.

Music breaks down all barriers and allows us to be united in hope and in action. In our church listening, we are called to be inspired in service to others. When a fifteen year old, Grayson Rosenberger, responded to a music ministry creatively, he demonstrated how this might work. His mother had lost both of her legs in a traffic accident. She and her husband founded Standing with Hope, a music ministry to amputees in Ghana, Africa. Grayson, and remember that he was only fifteen, entered the Sealed Air Corporation’s Bubble Wrap Competition for young inventors. He developed an inexpensive covering for prosthetics using shipping bubble wrap. A heat gun molded the bubble wrap making it feel more like skin and muscle. He won the grand prize in the contest out of over 800 entries!

“Music should be felt rather than heard,” said a famous composer. When we feel music, we realize it is a gift from God and that we are called to be lifted up by that gift. When we are at the baseball game and we hear, “Take me out to the ballgame,” we are united with our fellow fans. When the Memorial Day band plays, our belief in freedom and the ideals of democracy make our patriotism come to life. Our college fight song reminds us of our carefree days. The wedding march…the romantic ballad…the lullaby…memories flood back because music attaches itself to our identity. God intends for us to be connected to our past in music. The hymns of joy and love for God heal our hearts and unite us in our journey of faith. God intends for us to be connected to our future in music, God’s future, where the best memories can be realized and part of creating a new future.

We are each part of God’s grand gifts of music, and we have the power to help heal the mind, the heart, the body, and the power to create new songs of hope every time we play in God’s grand symphony!