By Marc Rademaker
I love music.
No, I mean, REALLY love music. I’m fortunate to live in a family basically raised on music, with a mother and two grandparents who are band directors and who taught me how to play multiple instruments. Like many others, I often find myself singing in the car and thinking, “I should totally audition for American Idol!” Music brings out something in us that nothing else can, and whatever form it takes it is an integral part of what channels our emotions and gives us comfort and security. That’s a lot of what makes music so important, especially in the current state of the world.
Music is one of my favorite forms of prayer, for many reasons, and it can do wonders. But, despite how much I love it, that doesn’t change the fact that it may be limited to little more than the 88 keys of the piano. At a certain point, music can reach a point of overuse or misuse, something that functions as a distraction to fill in a sound that makes many of us uncomfortable: silence.
I will be the first to admit that silence scares me. Ask my friends, and they will tell you that I often respond to the so-called ‘awkward silence’ with a casual “Sooo..” in an attempt to keep the conversation moving. Silence is uncomfortable – which is exactly why it is so important.
Silence is often associated with a lack of stimulation, and that stimulation we seek is commonly why we need to keep some level of volume in our lives. For the vast majority of my meals, I find it hard to sit down – whether it be by myself or with my family or roommates – without having a video or music playing. The stimulation means that I do not need to rely on myself or on those around me to facilitate action or conversation. In other words, I do not have to make any sacrifices in being vulnerable.
The same thing applies in prayer.
Like I said before, music has a vital role to play in prayer. Reciting prayers that we know is also another crucial part of a solid prayer life. But without entering into vulnerability in silence, we may be simply singing or reciting to God without allowing him to return his love back to us. With constant singing, talking, and noise, how can we fully hear God speaking to us? How can we even fully hear our own thoughts and feelings fleshed out?
We can begin to answer these questions when we realize that silence does not equal nothingness. In fact, silence is music. It is one of music’s most important aspects, aptly named by the musical term “rest.”
Coincidence? I think not.
The importance of this connection is two-fold. First, silence is important in offering a reprieve. This can come as relief from the stresses of daily life, talking, playing the music, or even being in control of our thoughts. We all know how good it feels when we have said everything on our mind and we can be finished talking. This brings us to the second important piece: resting offers an opportunity to share control with someone else. In music, this is reflected in showcasing another member or section of the group, wherein they have the power to dictate how the musical story flows. In prayer, this means allowing the Lord to be at the center of our focus, giving him the ability to take whatever we have given and show us how to respond to it. More importantly, it gives him the ability to put aside our baggage and to simply show us we are loved. This is truly what rest is: relinquishing control and trusting another to love us.
And this is hard. If it were easy, we would never want to be in control ever again. But this rest is what allows us to appreciate the music more fully when we are able to play it ourselves. More importantly, it allows us to more effectively be the player when that time comes around again. In film, there is often music underlying dialogue or action sequences, and when there is a period of silence, the audience notices. These are often the most powerful and important moments of suspense or emotion, and they are followed by the thundering re-entrance of more powerful, joyful, or heart-wrenching music.
But what is it like for those who cannot physically hear the music? I had the privilege of taking a year of American Sign Language in college and learning how important the visuals of our face and body can be. Without sound, raw human emotion is displayed through facial expressions and body language. Even when sound is present, it is apparent that these movements are what have the most impact on us. Our words can be forced, empty, or even just plain lies. But it is much harder to hide behind what can be read on our face or via our actions. It is here where our pure self lies, where our vulnerability lies. And it is in this realm – where volume is absent – where the answers lie. God often doesn’t speak to us explicitly through words, yet we know when the Holy Spirit is moving within us. Just like our movements, the movements of the Lord are rooted in truth.
Even though those in the Deaf community live in a silent world, they still find ways to make and feel music through rhythm, bass, and dancing. My professor would tell us that get-togethers in the Deaf community constitute cranking up the bass as much as possible so that everyone can feel the music moving through them – just as we can feel the Holy Spirit moving through us, giving us rest and a recharge as he leads us beyond our control. And if that silence ends and it is once again our turn to play the music, it is more beautiful, more powerful, more real than it was before.
So on the next drive that you and I want to audition for American Idol, try letting the Lord be the idol as we go along for the ride. It may take some time, some vulnerability, and even some pain to become accustomed to silence and to sift through the noise; but finding the best music as a result makes this all worth the while. This beautiful, invigorating, and satisfying music is waiting for us to compose it.
Even when the only sound it makes is silence.
How can I take practical action to make this music after resting in silence?
When should the silence be broken?
I’m so glad you asked. Stay tuned for Part 2.