Nick Hornby has an essay in Songbook where he talks about the presence of God in music. Hornby is an atheist, so he is not really talking about the presence of God, but instead of the ineffable quality of some music to make us feel something that we can’t explain. Certain moments in certain songs create “spine-shivering musical moments.” There are songs that can make even the most devout atheist “realize that, yes, there is an immortal soul, or, at the very least, a unifying human consciousness.” For Hornby, that song is “One Man Guy” by Rufus Wainwright. In particular, “One Man Guy” gives Hornby the God-feels when Rufus harmonizes with his sister Martha. I get it, too. That’s a great song and those are some great voices. Besides, there is something magical about two voices coming together to create gorgeous sounds.
For a long time, I wasn’t sure which secular song held spiritual power for me (praise and worship songs don’t count. They’re just cheating. Of COURSE God shows up for those!). I used to say that it was “Enter Sandman” by Metallica, especially the very beginning of the song. It just builds and builds, layering sounds on top of sounds, until the listener thinks it’s going explode. While it’s an amazingly powerful intro, if I’m honest with myself, God isn’t there.
I recently found God’s sound, though. And I found it TWICE. Perhaps, in two unlikely places…
My husband and I went to see Beauty and the Beast a few weeks ago. It was our first date since Olivia was born. While watching this movie, I was oddly moved to tears during the song “Belle.” For me, God comes in the lines “Oh, isn’t this amazing? / It’s my favorite part because you’ll see / Here’s where she meets Prince Charming / But she won’t discover that it’s him ’til chapter three!” Obviously, there’s nothing about the lyrics that should make me cry, but there’s something about the music! The melody just does something ineffable. Writing about music AND spirituality is a challenge. There just aren’t words that can sufficiently describe what one hears and feels. Writers generally have no patience for what Hornby calls the “effing ineffable,” but I’m okay with recognizing my limits as a writer. I just don’t have the words to explain why that moment in that song moved me to tears. I saw a video on Jason Silva’s Facebook page a while ago where he explained that we don’t cry because we’re sad; we cry because something that we see, hear, or experience is more beautiful than we expected it to be. Crying is our response to the cognitive dissonance that occurs when something so greatly exceeds our expectations. However, even that explanation somehow falls short. I think it must be God.
Even Olivia has shown me that she can recognize God in some of the music she hears. When she’s fussy and inconsolable, I’ve found that, for some reason, “Broken” by Seether calms her down. Actually, it does more than calm her down. She stops what she’s doing and almost becomes hypnotized. I used to think that she was trying to figure out what she was listening to, but I wonder if it isn’t deeper than that. She hears a lot of music, but that song is special. There’s almost an anointing to Amy Lee’s voice, and it just soothes Olivia’s spirit. It’s like magic. There’s something in the music that speaks to her soul. It might sound crazy, and obviously Olivia can’t express it, but she can hear God in that song. It just goes to show that even when we cannot understand words, we can be inexplicably moved by music.