When the right song drifts into our lives at the right time, it can hook us beneath the radar of our rational defenses, turn us inside out, and draw out those bits of our selves we keep tucked away or cannot otherwise access.
At it’s best, this is what liturgical music has the power to do: swell up through the vernacular, flesh-and-blood, toes-in-the-dirt space in our lives and shape our bodies into a living, communal life with Jesus and one another.
If we want to enter a season like Lent, walking with Jesus into his death and resurrection, liturgical music helps open our hearts and shape our steps for being fully, genuinely present on that journey.
We Need an Auditory-Spiritual Detox
Walking with Christ on the road to the cross involves a plunge beneath our best attempts to be better or do more and soberly listen to the sound of our deepest ache.
We cannot take to the cross pain to which we are tone deaf, after all. Walking with Jesus to the cross is a healing journey of encountering holy love, and the season of Lent is space for uncovering what is lodged in our deep, pushing beyond habituated self-deception and distracting noise.Walking with Jesus to the cross is a healing journey of encountering holy love, and the season of Lent is space for uncovering what is lodged in our deep, pushing beyond habituated self-deception and distracting noise. Click To Tweet
The problem is that finding the path for this journey with Christ can feel so elusive in our age.
The sound of our longings get drowned out by a cacophony of melodies that hook into our ache and pull us away from true life, deeper into our false self, toward death. These are pseudo-melodies crafted by the Empire, that false kingdom, parasitic on true life, competing for our loyalty and love.
We need an auditory detox from the pseudo-melody of the Empire.
The pseudo-melody of the Empire is the sound of consumption. Its enticing song promises cheap satisfaction that leaves us hollow, not more alive but closer to death. It inflates our ego and makes us less human. It’s the cadence that props-up systems of oppression in the guise of peace and security.
Into this world, the melody of the Crucified Christ issues forth an alternative cadence to help us detox from our disordered desires, guiding us out of consumption and death, and into true life and peace.
The true melody of Christ is the sound of communion. It may feel like death when we walk in sync, but this death is the surrender of our addiction to the Empire’s false promises. The death we experience is the necessary condition for resurrection, which is where the melody of Christ always leads.
Singing Our Way Through Lent
If walking with Jesus through Lent involves both spiritual detox and reorientation, then we cannot overlook the power of music in helping us make that journey together.If walking with Jesus through Lent involves both spiritual detox and reorientation, then we cannot overlook the power of music in helping us make that journey together. Click To Tweet
This is good news, especially for those who feel like liturgical activities like observing Lent are daunting, confusing, or inaccessible. Entering Lent doesn’t have to depend on knowing or understanding archaic prayers and traditions. In fact, Lent is not best engaged on that level at all, but on the level where music takes us: the sub-rational places in the deep of our heart, where sighs too deep for rational explanations and solutions live.
And there’s even more good news: Within the soul of Christian communities in the U.S., a liturgical renewal is quietly bubbling up, particularly around the crafting of liturgical music.
Rather than describing cold, archaic sounds abstracted from our real lives, this liturgical music movement emerges from the language, sounds, and images “in the bones” of our actual, gritty lives and places. From that accessible, real place, liturgical music gives articulation to the true melody of Christ. We can thus join our own voice (and body) to these tunes and find ourselves caught up into Christ’s life.
Liturgical music, at its best, is also multi-vocal, gathering up and representing the diversity of Christ’s body. Thus, liturgical music seeks to be culturally particular while also expressing the reality that the true melody of Christ (in contrast to the pseudo melody of the Empire) can never be fully represented by or contained within one cultural voice. Liturgical music necessarily invites encounter with sounds unlike “our” own because in so doing we discover what it means to truly dance to Christ’s melody.
The collaborative music project “Liturgical Folk” has crafted a new album that does this work, specifically for aiding the journey through Lent. Their new album, Lent, is a 10-song narrative journey along the road to the cross, ever leaning toward resurrection. The album was crafted and recorded by a racially and generationally diverse group of men and women, bringing together simple-yet-historic language from Christian tradition with the sounds of Americana culture.
Why not sing your way through Lent this year?