RECOLLECTION MATERIAL FOR AUGUST 2021: Music, the Craft of Lovers
Music has always been an expression of feelings and intellectual content. It is a subtle and elevated form of communication, and is part of the life of every human being. Music has accompanied humanity throughout its history, has given identity and has created deep human bonds. At the same time that music is a great wealth for man, he can take an inadequate attitude towards it, because he runs the risk of turning it more into an element of consumption, or simply a means of dispersion and depersonalization, if not of alienation and disregard for or inattention to the world. For this reason, today more than ever, it is necessary to seek in music a means of dialogue, to enable us to understand the world where we live in and invite us to an experience of God through the musical vocabulary, aware that the ultimate music is for every human being to know oneself as an instrument in the hands of God, and to let Him play the best melody with each person. This month we will reflect on the importance of dialogue with music and the importance of music in the experience of God and in the evangelization of our world.
Return to yourself
Let us now prepare our hearts for an encounter with the Lord. We need moments of serenity and peace, as if they were the silences of a melody, to allow God to temper the strings of our heart so that they vibrate before him and can reproduce the melody that he wants to play with us and in us.
The old man sings an old song; the new man sings a new song. The Old Testament sings the old canticle; the New Testament sings the new canticle. The new canticle is the canticle of grace; the new canticle is the canticle of the new man; the new canticle is the canticle of the New Testament. Put off your old age, for you have known the new canticle. New man, new Testament, new canticle. Let us sing the new canticle as new men who have been renewed from old age by grace, and who already belong to the New Testament, which is the kingdom of heaven manifested in Christ, who lives and reigns forever and ever (en. Ps. 149, 1; en. Ps. 143, 16; en. Ps. 32, 2, 1).
Your voice is my joy
With a heart well disposed, with serenity, I read without haste the following words of Psalm 92 (91), tasting them and letting myself be impacted by them:
2 It is good to give thanks to Yahweh, to sing in your honor, O Most High,
3 to declare your love in the morning and your faithfulness by night,
4 with the ten-stringed harp and the lyre, accompanied by the strumming of the sitar.
5 For by your deeds, Yahweh, you make me glad, at the works of your hands I cry out:
6 “How great are your deeds, Yahweh! and how deep are your thoughts!”
7 The stupid man does not understand, the foolish man does not understand.
8 Though the wicked sprout like weeds and all evildoers flourish, they will be destroyed forever,
they will be destroyed forever;
9 But you are eternally exalted!
The firmament of the Scriptures
This psalm is traditionally known as “the song of the righteous”, because in verse 13 it speaks of the righteous who flourishes like a palm tree. The psalm is an explosion of jubilation over the works of God, deeds and wonders that the wicked are not able to understand, but which the man who walks with God proclaims through his voice, music and life.
In this psalm there is a mixture of ethics and didactics in the contrast between the righteous and the wicked. From verses 7 to 12 there is a reference to the wicked. They are spoken of as incapable of understanding (v. 7), condemned to destruction (v. 8), scattered (v. 10) and defeated (v. 12). In verse 11, the psalmist becomes the singing voice of the psalm: to me you give the strength of a buffalo. From verse 13 on, the psalm focuses on a speech of praise as something that is proper and natural to the righteous (v. 16: to proclaim how righteous
In verse 2 the expression “it is good to give thanks to Yahweh” appears which is presented as the motif for the psalm. The verb to sing (zmr) is developed by the verb to publish (ngd): the praise to Yahweh will be the publication of his love and faithfulness (v. 3), accompanied by instruments such as the harp and the sitar (v. 4).
Verse 5 introduces with the verb shout (rnn) the first of three expressions that exalt the psalmist’s feeling: How great are your works Yahweh. The whole song and music are reduced to this phrase. Verse 9 presents the second expression: But you are eternally exalted! The psalm recognizes the greatness of Yahweh over the wicked, presented as foolish (kesil) and evildoer (rasa). Foolishness is understood as a motive for wickedness: ignorance of God is the cause of wickedness, therefore, the psalmist wants to make his declaration before the wicked, so that they recognize that there is nothing greater than praising God. The second part of the psalm, dedicated to the righteous (tsadiq) -the one who praises God well-, (v. 11-16), culminates with another declaration of praise: “My rock, in whom there is no falsehood”.
Psalms are texts that were composed to be sung. Our psalm, as well as the alleluiatic psalms (146-150), present a list of instruments for praise. In our text, in addition to the voice, there are the ten-stringed harp (nabel), the lyre (ashôr) and the sitar (kinôr) (v. 4). These are some of the typical instruments of the time, which indicate that musical accompaniment was important in the Temple liturgy. Music is a good and necessary art, which requires us to use our natural abilities, such as the voice, and our creative and artistic abilities to proclaim the greatness of God.
Song and music occupied an essential place in the life and spiritual experience of St. Augustine. Thus he reminds us in the Confessions of the effect that the psalms of David had on him, since they were: “canticles of faith, sounds of piety, which exclude every puffed-up spirit”(conf. 9, 8). And the songs in the Church of Milan, both the chanting of the psalms and of the Ambrosian hymns, deeply moved the heart of St. Augustine, and became for him a revulsive for his tears, with which he expressed compunction for his sins; and, on the other hand, the music was a spur that increased his deep desire to return to God:
How I wept with your hymns and your songs, strongly moved by the voices of your Church, which sweetly sang! (conf. 9:14).
In fact, St. Augustine reminds us that the act of singing, not only with the voice, but also with life and works, becomes a function of joy, and ultimately a matter of love: “Singing and psalmody are usually the business of lovers” (s. 33:1).
Whoever truly loves God must necessarily love his neighbor, and in so doing fulfills the law of the New Testament, which for Augustine is no other thing than singing a new canticle, for “love is the new canticle” (en Ps. 95:2). Singing the new canticle is not only an exhortation to joy and love, but also to conversion. Whoever sings the new canticle can no longer walk in the ways of the old man, corrupted by sin. He needs to sing the new canticle, because he lives in the newness of Christ, of his grace and of his salvation:
We have been invited to sing to the Lord a new canticle. The new man knows the new canticle. Singing is a function of joy and, if we consider it attentively, an office of love (s. 34:1).
And St. Augustine manifests in a concrete way what it is to sing the new canticle. It is not only a matter of singing hymns with our lips, but above all of praising God with our coherence of life. This is why the Bishop of Hippo says: “Sing the new canticle, not with your tongue, but with your life” (en Ps. 32, 2, 1). And this coherence should lead the believer to transform himself into what he sings, in order to truly praise God: “Do you want to sing praises to God? Be what you say” (s. 34:6).
A concrete way that St. Augustine proposes to his listeners to live, to sing and to be the same new canticle is to avoid disorder. Order is a manifestation of the presence of God, and at times human beings can disorganize their lives, falling into sin by making disorderly use of the things that surround them, or even of their own bodies. That is why he comments:
I will sing, giving thanks with joy and making orderly use of the body, which is the spiritual song of the soul (en. Ps. 12:6).
On the other hand, St. Augustine observes that in many psalms, we are invited to praise God with the sitar and the harp. The Hipponate interprets these two musical instruments as: on the one hand, the works we do in this world and, on the other hand, the prayer we address to God. Thus, St. Augustine notes that the sitar has the sounding board at the bottom, while the ten-stringed harp, which represents the Ten Commandments (s. 32:8), has the sounding board at the top. Thus, when we praise God, listen to his word and make our life a melody pleasing to the Lord we perform the actions of the “sitar”; and when we fulfill the Ten Commandments and pray lifting up our heart to God, we perform “the works of the harp”:
Therefore the harp seems to belong to heaven; and the sitar to earth. The preaching of God’s word is heavenly. But if we long for heavenly things, let us not be lazy to perform earthly things, for we must play the joyful harp but together with the sitar (…) Thus we are admonished here to respond with bodily works to the preaching of the word of God (en. Ps. 80:5).
Finally, every believer is invited to sing as he travels the road to the heavenly Jerusalem of which he is a pilgrim. Thus, as we face the various vicissitudes of life, we traverse the way of this world, advancing along the paths of God. Nevertheless, we do not travel God’s path with sadness or depression, but with the joy proper to love, advancing each day, knowing that we are ever closer to the goal. That is why St. Augustine invites us to sing and walk:
Sing as wayfarers are wont to sing; sing, but walk; comfort your work with singing, do not love laziness: sing and walk (s. 256:3).
The gold of Egypt
The artistic work that serves us on this occasion to reflect on is the painting by Caravaggio (Michelangelo Merisi, 1571-1610), “The Musicians or the Concert”, preserved in the Metropolitan Museum of New York.
The work was painted around 1597, and was commissioned by Cardinal Francesco Maria Del Monte, a great lover of the arts and music, who owned a valuable library, as well as various musical instruments. The painting apparently depicts three young people who are about to start playing a melody, drawing our attention to the young man dressed in red who holds a lute in his hands. However, it has been pointed out that the painting has some elements that make this scene meaningful that goes beyond the ordinary elements, starting with the winged cupid in the background of the scene cutting a bunch of grapes. And, along with this detail, it has been discovered a few years ago that the text that the young musicians are about to sing is a madrigal for 6 voices, composed by Pompeo Stabile with lyrics by Jacopo Sannazaro, which tells the story of Icarus, the mythical and reckless son of Daedalus who fell fulminated in the sea in his vain attempt to fly towards the sun with wings of wax. The painting would be, according to some scholars, a warning to those who pretend through art to rise to the heights of God, believing to be able to reach his mysteries by their own strength. Music is one of the ways of the via pulchritudinis (way to beauty) that brings us closer to God, but human aesthetic experience can never replace the living experience of God.
From words to action
St. Augustine tells us that “singing and chanting are usually the business of lovers” (s. 33:1). Are religious song and music instruments that help me to relate to God? Do they amplify my relationship of love with God? Do I use the art of music to grow in my relationship with God, in my relationship with my brothers and sisters and in the evangelization?
The prayer that many young Christians perform in the little French village of Taizé is a symbol of ecumenical prayer. The Word of God, the silence to welcome the Word and to respond to God, and the music as an amplifier of the feelings that arise in dialogue with God are essential elements of this way of praying. What does this experience suggest to me with regard to ecumenical and interreligious dialogue?
St. Augustine tells us that “love is the new canticle” (en Ps. 95:2). Love and music are languages that everyone understands and enjoys. What initiatives based on the language of love and music can we generate to build the Kingdom of love of Jesus Christ? Is my life a moving canticle, interpreted with love and joy to praise God?
Sing and Walk
(Song by José Manuel González Durán)
Listen to these words spoken long ago:
Sing and walk! sing and walk!
Take a step forward, then another and another and another;
Sing and walk! Sing and walk!
Everyone has a story to live.
A virgin path we must discover;
Sing and walk! Sing and walk!
Don’t ever stop, don’t ever stop,
never look back.
Never stop, never stop, never stop,
sing and walk to the end.
Long walk, our life is like that;
no need to fear, friend.
Give me your hand, it’s easier this way;
We’re not alone, God is here.
Don’t let fear stop you, no, no, no, no;
Sing and walk! Sing and walk!
Fight for your dreams, for your faith, for the truth;
Sing and walk! Sing and walk!
You know that in life you will find good and evil;
yours is the answer: turn around or go on,
Sing and walk! Sing and walk!