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Viewpoints: What music inspires, influences your faith?

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Viewpoints is a SpokaneFāVS feature where our writers respond to a weekly question. Readers are invited to participate by posting in the comment section below.

The next SpokaneFāVS Coffee Talk, on May 7, will be on “Faith and Music.”

So we asked our columnists, “Is there a piece of music that inspires or influences your faith?” They wrote in with lots of responses.

Matthew Sewell: I’ve been listening to a lot of the band For King & Country lately, but in general my spiritual music go-tos are them, Matt Maher, Audrey Assad. My last several months have been very difficult with many personal issues going on, but have also been the source of much grace from God. The Christian life is full of the greatest joys and the realest, grittiest lows, and these artists all reflect that in their music.

One lyric in particular that’s stuck with me lately is from For King & Country’s song, “O God Forgive Us”:
Silence isn’t comfortable
We want drive through peace and instant hope
Our shallow faith it has left us broke
It’s a great lesson and reminder that anything worth having — especially a good relationship with the Lord — requires work, devotion, perseverance, and, at times, disappointment.

Emily Geddes:  Music is definitely one of my spiritual “love languages.” I’ve been touched by music in just about every genre, and once had a prayer answered by a Beatles song. (Really!)

“Come, Thou Fount of Every Blessing” (lyrics by Robert Robinson in 1758 and music by John Wyeth in 1813) moves me every time I hear it. “Jesus sought me when a stranger.” “Let Thy goodness, like a fetter, bind my wandering heart to Thee.” ‘Here’s my heart, oh take and seal it, seal it for Thy courts above.”
I love this arrangement by Mack Wilberg.  And the Mormon Tabernacle Choir has never sounded better.

Andrew Wheeler: One song that a good Pakistani friend sent me a year back continues to resonate with me today, despite some of its elements not fitting entirely with my own worldview. The song is Sanam Marvi’s “Yaar Vekho,”  a musical adaptation of classical poetry.

Not only do the melody and the cadence of the artist’s voice transport you, but the message conveyed is a vital one. It speaks to the transformative power of love and song, the importance of humility when seeking answers to transcendent questions and the quintessentiality of rejecting the constraining nature of labels like Sunni and Shi’i. Throughout the lyrics, reference is made to respected Sufi thinkers, but stress is laid on the cruciality of the individual’s journey to transcendent truths. The singer discovers that, looking within herself, she is able to reach out to God and she is filled with oceans of mercy in what is otherwise an arid desert. Though I would posit that we make our own oases, I respect and identify with the honest, directed, metaphysical meandering of the singer, who finds herself gaining a higher understanding of the world while paradoxically recognizing that she somehow understands far less than those around her. Similarly, her truth is amplified and muted by the struggles others on the same journey have faced. The bumps and valleys produced created simultaneous feelings of inspiration and impossibility in the pursuit of higher truths.

Hyphen Parent:  My favorite piece of music in Judaism is all of it. Services aren’t recited, they’re sung. We don’t say prayers. We chant them. Our entire service is music. All of our prayers are songs and I love that.

Before we even get out of bed, we sing prayers. All throughout our day we sing. The last thing we do before we fall asleep is sing one final prayer.

I love the way the music draws us in. I love the way our voices all ebb and flow as we sing together in services. There’s a comfort in a worn familiar melody. We’ve moved all over the country and, while different cultures may have different tunes, it’s incredibly comforting to know we can join any congregation and join right in singing well-loved tunes. Some prayers are the same everywhere. Others may vary a bit. Some times you attend a new congregation and get the thrill of hearing a chant done in a tune you haven’t heard in ages. Although we left our last congregation five years ago, to this day, there are portions of chants I still hear in one of our last rabbi’s booming voice. We haven’t seen him in years, but the tunes bring back the happiest of memories. I can still recite the first Torah portion I ever chanted because we learn it in song. What you read, you may quickly forget. What you sing can stay in your head and on your tongue forever.

The music of chanting helps connect us all together.   Whether you’re a new convert, a baal teshuva (a Jew who was raised more secular and becomes more observant), a service regular from the time you were a small child, or a rabbi, you can join in and sing along. You may not know the Hebrew, but you quickly learn at least portions if you attend regularly.  I remember those around us laughing as my son as an infant, peaked his head out of the sling to sing along to the tunes in services. He couldn’t even speak yet, but he tried to join in as best as he could. Luckily, his efforts were appreciated by those around us. Before our youngest daughter could speak Hebrew, she could dance to the music of the service. Before she could read Hebrew, she already knew all the Shabbat service prayers and could sing along. Our older daughters are fluent Hebrew readers and can jump in and lead prayers when asked. I love when they do because I love hearing their voices blend together in prayer.

Hebrew prayers both in services and at home are music and I love singing along.

Thomas Schmidt: The hymn, “Be Thou My Vision.” At the other extreem, the mystical Yiddish chant by the East Village Fugs (1960’s) “Nothing.”

Admir Rasic: Islamic music is popular in Bosnia. I enjoy listening to these kinds of songs (above).

Joe Newby:  I enjoy a wide variety of music, from bluegrass to 80’s rock to classical to contemporary Christian and bagpipes (Love listening to real Scots who know how to use pipes). Depends on how I feel at the time. When writing on something that really motivates me, I sometimes listen to the 3-hour theme from Last of the Mohicans, based on The Gael (Above).

This is on my bucket list:

And this is one of my all-time favorite Christian songs:

Neal Schindler: This is one of the most beautiful pieces of music I’ve ever heard:

It doesn’t hurt that I love the movie, “American Beauty,” that it comes from. I find this particular portion of the score both very soothing and very contemplative. It’s not soothing like a vicodin but complex and stimulating, the kind of music I imagine promotes deep thought. I also think it captures the complicated nature and nuances of life, and of the movie.

This is one of my favorite songs. I find it to be one of the least cloying musical expressions of the whole “carpe diem” concept, which I think is inherently spiritual. Also there are obvious references to heaven and the Devil.

Readers, chime in! How would you answer this week’s Viewpoints question?

Tracy Simmons
Tracy Simmons
Tracy Simmons is an award-winning journalist specializing in religion reporting and digital entrepreneurship. In her approximate 20 years on the religion beat, Simmons has tucked a notepad in her pocket and found some of her favorite stories aboard cargo ships in New Jersey, on a police chase in Albuquerque, in dusty Texas church bell towers, on the streets of New York and in tent cities in Haiti. Simmons has worked as a multimedia journalist for newspapers across New Mexico, Texas, Connecticut and Washington. She is the executive director of FāVS.News, a digital journalism start-up covering religion news and commentary in Spokane, Washington. She also writes for The Spokesman-Review and national publications. She is a Scholarly Assistant Professor of Journalism at Washington State University.

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