The Impact of Music on My Spiritual Life

Before we begin our survey of the development of liturgical music in Christianity as it relates to the Bible, I want to share with you the impact that music has had upon my own spiritual life. When I was at college, studying vocal and instrumental music, I was introduced to ideas quite different from the religious environment with which I was familiar.  At one point, as part of the rebellion that I had delayed through high school, I told my father, a Seventh Day Baptist minister, that I thought that Augustine was as inspired as many of the writers of the Bible. It perhaps made the point that I had discovered that the canonization of the Bible occurred in history by the action of men, yes, actually men.  But, it was an ignorant statement.  I had never read Augustine, and when I later did read his work, I found him too much the root of Christian fundamentalism through the almost two millennia that followed him. Too doctrinaire for my views today.  I discovered Eric Fromm, studied sociology and the impact of our social environment upon each of us individually, and I studied psychology and the impact of conditioning, environment, volition and much more which caused me to examine who I was, why I was that person, and what choice I had about who I might beome.  Actually, I learned more from Eric Fromm than from that psychology class.

With so much new information, I was excited to explore other ideas that were foreign to my experience as a child and adolescent. One of the things that caused me some concern was this question: “What if I die when I am doubting?”  In childhood one of the fundamental messages that I got was that we are “saved by faith.” What if I lost my faith? What if I died doubting?  I am sure that is not unique to me or to Christianity.

In about my third year of college I was studying the tenor aria from Mendelssohn’s oratorio, Elijah: “If with all your hearts ye truly seek me, ye shall ever surely find me, thus saith our God.”  I do find Augustine perceptive and he has left a number of jewels, not the least of which I have used in this blog: “He who sings, twice prays.”  Reading a text is one thing, but putting it to music and singing it fixes it in one’s soul and sets it to flight.  Singing the recitative and aria gave me great hope.  If God wanted me to grow, I would have to let go of some old, comfortable ideas that did not so well fit the world that I had discovered. God understands that (if there is any part of God that is like a human being’s understanding).  I felt safe to seek. I felt assured that if I honestly sought the Divine in life, I would surely find it.  The insight and encouragement that I received from that aria back in the 70’s has stayed with me, and I am now age 64. That experience has influenced my respect for others and for many different religions.  I do not see that the Divine is limited to any set of beliefs or religion; rather, the message that I get from the New Testamentis is that Jesus said not to worry in whose and what name people show love and caring of others, or do their miracles of love; but “by their fruits you will know them.”  Love of neighbor is like love of the Divine.

I will post two YouTube videos performance of that aria that has had particular meaning for me.

The first is a college student, a tenor, accompanied on piano, which would be very similar to my performance of it, except that I could only hope to have approached the quality of his voice and performance:

The second expresses my vision of what “I could have done with an orchestra” (if I only had his vocal and expressive talents):

I sang that aria in several churches and at my audition for the chorus of Opera Omaha and thereafter until the late 1970s when I had surgery on my vocal chords. I have often thought of the aria both because of its beauty and because of its assurance.

For a magnificent complete performance of the oratorio, Elijah, by the Boston University College of Fine Arts, see .

With the next blog, we will continue our journey through time with the music of the Christian church and its contribution to Western music.  Hopefully, those readers of other faiths, be they Abrahamic or not, will find something here that touches their hearts and inspires them.

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How Many Ways to Sing Thy Praise!

Psalm 117:1-2

1 O praise the Lord, all ye nations: praise him, all ye people.

2 For his merciful kindness is great toward us: and the truth of the Lord endureth for ever. Praise ye the Lord.—

Following are some ways Christians have sung God’s praise through the centuries:

Gregorian chant 

6th Century Chant

Early Organum

The above site is an excellent source of chant of both Western and Eastern Christianity.

Seventh Century

Byzantine Chant

14th Century – Guillaume de Machaut


Philippe Rogier


Early 17th Century


Chiara Margarita Cozzolani:

19th Century – Mendelssohn

20th century –  Stravinsky

How many ways can different ensembles perform the same piece of music, Mozart’s  Laudate Dominum from Vesperae solennes de confessore, K. 339 written in1780.

The linked sites will provide a description of the performers and other information concerning the performance.

Having heard examples of how music can contribute to praise and worship, we will now turn our attention to how music developed from the time of the early Christian church to the present.



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Music: the Universal Language by Which Texts Soar

Music has been called the “universal language.” That, obviously, is an overstatement in that whatever the music, it requires some familiarity with it and its cultural context to fully appreciate it. For example, a Muslim call to prayer might seem to the uninitiated to be just a bunch of shouting, but to a devout Muslim, it might be the beginning of a very meaningful and religious experience. I find it remarkable, for example, that Japan has in recent years produced so many recordings of masses, such as Bach’s B Minor Mass, when a hundred years ago, that same music may have been for Japanese just so much foreign music concerning a religious topic that few of them had much to do with, let alone experience. Suzuki, the father of the Suzuki talent development method, particularly as applied to the violin and other stringed instrument, clearly understood the value of experience when he required that the mother play the violin so that while the baby was yet in utero, your she could hear the music and respond to it.

As I believe that there is great benefit in seeing the Bible through others’ eyes, and particularly through the eyes of a trained artist who has developed some sensitivity and artistic skills to convey a deeper experience of that world and to invite the observer to bring to the viewing his or her own experiences, so, also, music touches the soul in its own unique ways. One of the advantages of creeds, from an artistic standpoint, is that the same text can receive many different treatments throughout many different periods by many different composers as heard by many different audiences; and yet, each is unique, as is each person unique from all others. Music touches the soul.

I recall a time when I lay on the floor in front of my stereo record player (yes, indeed, I had one at one time) listening to a recording of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony. I had a very deep religious experience. Music has a way of doing that, transcending the individual notes, rooted in this physical world, performed by trained and experienced musicians, transported by sound waves from voice or instrument to receptive ears, processed and interpreted by brains conditioned by unique experiences, and yet having the potential to transport human souls beyond the limits of everyday existence. It can do so individually as well as communally.

Western music owes much to Christian liturgy. That is my heritage. It has great meaning to me because, in part, I have chosen to participate in that heritage, and not to abandon it for traditions with which I have no familiarity.  I am enriched by music of other traditions, but this is where my roots were established; it is from here that I relate to other rich traditions.

I know that the spark of the divine, that which transcends mere bodily existence, is shared by each of us; or, expressed in other words, we are, each one of us, “made in the image of God”. Religion is more than a list of beliefs, more than a bag of supernatural rewards for such beliefs. In Eric Fromm’s definition, religion affects how we live by giving us a sense of orientation and an object of devotion. The Catholic theologian, Matthew Fox, puts it this way:

True religion is a union of the soul with God, a real participation of the divine nature, the very image of God drawn upon the soul, or [for us Christians], in the apostle’s phrase, it is Christ formed within us. Briefly, I know not how the nature of religion can be more fully expressed than by calling it a divine life. . . .

And now, in the rest of the pages of this musical section of the blog, we will seek to put words to flight that is reflective of the human spirit in union with the divine mystery.



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Dogma: Fully Human – and Fully Divine?

Christian dogma asserts both Jesus’ full humanity and his full divinity.  That presents a logical problem: the difficulty of being both limited and unlimited. The literalist or fundamentalist Christians attempts to use the paradox to prove that faith in Christ defies all human reasoning. It is quite one thing to understand that our understanding is limited, but to assert a paradox as proof of a matter that has no meaningful relationship to human understanding and healthful living, is quite another thing.  In this case, however, we do not need to rely upon a  assertion of disconnected faith.

According to the synoptic accounts, Jesus did not claim to be one with God.  To the contrary, when a certain ruler came to Jesus and asked him, “Good Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life.”  Jesus replied, “Why do you call me good?  No one is good except God alone.”  Luke 18:18, 19.  And when Jesus taught his disciples to pray, he taught them, “Our father, . . . ”   It was to that same Father of all that Jesus prayed in his own hour of despair, “Father, if Thou art willing, remove this cup from me; yet not my will, but Thine be done.”  Luke 22:42.

Both Matthew and Luke introduce Jesus’ public ministry with the Beatitudes.  This sermon summarizes his message: the least of us is loved by God and called to the Kingdom.   It is a message of a relational world:

Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.

Blessed are the gentle, for they shall inherit the earth.

Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.

Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy.

Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.

Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.

Blessed are those who have been persecuted for the sake of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Blessed are you when men cast insults at you, and persecute you, and say all kinds of evil against you falsely, on account of Me.

Rejoice, and be glad, for your reward in heaven is great, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.

Matthew 5:3-12.  That expresses the core of civil disobedience.  Indeed, Luke’s account of the Beatitudes is preceded by Jesus’ disobedience of pharisaic law in that he permitted his disciples to harvest grain to eat on the Sabbath and he healed on the Sabbath

In Matthew 12:10-13 the Pharisees ask Jesus in the presence of a man with a withered hand, “Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath?”  Jesus answers, not the specific question, but he responded with the principle which commanded the answer,

What man shall be among you who shall have one sheep, and if it falls into a pit on the Sabbath, will he not take hold of it, and lift it out?  Of how much more value then is a man than a sheep!  So then, it is lawful to do good on the Sabbath.

In Mark and Luke, Jesus merely asks the man, “Is it lawful to do good on the Sabbath?”

In each of these accounts Jesus focuses on doing good.  Right personal relationships produces good results.  Jesus did good, even when it violated the law.

Jesus also had a reputation for associating with social outcasts.  Luke 5:30 reports that the Pharisees and the scribes complained to the disciples, “Why do you eat and drink with the tax gatherers and sinners?”  Later, Luke reports in Chapter 15 the same question by the Pharisees was put to Jesus, who responds, not directly, but with three parables: the Lost Sheep, the Lost Coin, and the Prodigal Son.  Those are messages of inclusion.

Jesus’ first sermon speaks of blessed suffering.  His last sermon speaks of its rewards.

But when the Son of Man comes in His glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on his glorious throne. And all the nations will be gathered before him; and he will separate them from one another, as the shepherd separates the sheep from the goats; and he will put the sheep on his right and the goats on the left.

Then the King will say to those on His right, “Come, you who are blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.  For I was hungry, and you gave me something to eat; I was thirsty, and you gave me drink; I was a stranger, and you invited me in; naked, and you clothed me; I was sick, and you visited me; I was in prison, and you came to me.

Matthew 25:31-46.  The people (without regard to their belief or unbelief ) who were rewarded are genuinely surprised at their reward:

Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty, and give you drink?  And when did we see you a stranger, and invite you in, or naked, and clothed you?  And when did we see you sick, or in prison, and come to you?”

And the King will answer and say to them, “Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did it to one of these brothers of Mine, even the least of them, you did it to me.”

Then he will also say to those on his left, “Depart from me, accursed ones, into the eternal fire which has been prepared for the devil and his angels; for I was hungry, and you gave me nothing to eat; I was thirsty, and you gave me nothing to drink; I was a stranger, and you did not invite me in; naked, and you did not clothe me; sick, and in prison, and you did not visit me.”

In turn, the people (again without regard to their belief or unbelief ) were surprised at their punishment:

Lord, when did we see you hungry, or thirsty, or a stranger, or naked, or sick, or in prison, and did not take care of you?”

Then he will answer them, saying, “Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.

And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.

Jesus’ civil disobedience threatened the religious order of his time.  Matthew reports that the chief priests and elders plotted to kill Jesus.  The Pharisees sought to justify their plot to kill Jesus.  They claimed Jesus gave false testimony.  Mark 14: 55-56.  And then they goaded Jesus, “Are you the Christ, the Son of the Blessed One?”   Jesus answered, “I am; and you shall see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of Power, and coming with the clouds of heaven.”  Mark 14:61-62.  The high priest then charged Jesus with blasphemy, punishable by death under Jewish law.

The Pharisees still needed civil authority to kill Jesus, so they took Jesus to Pilate.  Luke 23:1; Matt. 27:2.   Upon examining Jesus, Pilate announced “I find no guilt in this man.”  Luke 23:4.  But the Pharisees and the “crowd” persisted.  Luke 23:14; 23:22.  Pilate finally succumbed.  He “washed his hands” of the matter and turned Jesus over “to their will.”  Jesus thereby paid the price for his civil disobedience.  He did not run from its consequences.  Neither did he desire the consequences, as he prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane, “Father, remove this cup from me; nevertheless, not my will but Thine be done.”

Mark, recognized to be our oldest source material of the life of Jesus, and probably the most historically reliable, with fewer post-Jesus Christological statements, reports at 15:34 Jesus’ last words to be, “My God, My God, why hast thou forsaken me?”  Matthew 27:46 reports the same.  Neither account gives more.  These words, Edward Schilebeekx believed, are shown likely to be authentic words because of the embarrassment that such words would have had for the early Christians.  Luke omits those embarrassing words altogether, and ends his account of the crucifixion with the words, “Father, into thy hands I commit my spirit.”

Because the first Christians were Jews who had followed Jesus, it was natural that they would look to Jewish traditions and Scriptures to understand their tragedy.  Most helpfully, it might be explained by the great Jewish hope for the Messiah who would bring peace for them on earth. There was much of Jewish history and tradition that could support that hope. This new body of Jewish Christians attempted to show that Jesus did not conflict with their laws and traditions, but rather, fulfilled them.

When St. Paul brought the gospel to the Gentiles, i.e. those outside Judaism who were steeped in Greco-Roman culture, it is also natural that the history, myths, traditions, and logical skills with which they were familiar could help him, in a pagan world, to show that Jesus was also the fulfillment of their dreams as expressed in their myths.  The rite of Dionysus, of his death and resurrection, may have provided some support to Gentile Christians among Jewish Christians, connecting the Jewish traditions of the sacrificial lamb and the hope of the Messiah, a time of peace, with the pagan rituals relating to the death and resurrection of Dionysus, and participation of those devotees in a communal meal in which they participated in his death and resurrection by eating a feast of wine and the meat of a sacrificed animal representing his blood and body.

Again, I do not intend to disprove the creed.  I intend to cause no offense to the faith of any reader, Christian, Jew, or Muslim.  However, I cannot ignore my life experience that a human body, already decomposing, cannot be resuscitated because of the damage to vital organs necessary for human life. I also know that if it were a body that was resurrected, physical bodies do not walk through walls and locked doors as is reported when “the risen Christ” suddenly appeared among the disciples meeting in that upper room; nor does the body simply disappear as is reported concerning the walk to Emmaus and the following meal.  I don’t seek to explain either event, but I cannot suspend some basic principles of what I know, in this life, to be true for the sake of a belief that is thrust upon me that is common to my experience and the science of life in order to prove that God’s ways are greater than man’s ways.  That certainly is true, but in no way does it support a notion that God suspended the laws of nature in this or any other single case.  I believe in the same resurrection which sensitive people of all faiths and convictions experience; but, that experience of resurrection is much deeper than a magical trick.

The answer of many Christians is that although Jesus was fully man, Jesus was fully God, and with God all things are possible. Additionally, we have been told by Paul that if the death and resurrection of Jesus is not true, then Christianity has no meaning at all. I have many times been told that this reality of the bodily resurrection of Jesus is a matter of faith that defies all human reason. I simply cannot reject my education and experience in life.  That, also, was not possible for the devout Christian priest and scientist, Teilhard de Chardin who wrote:

If, as the result of some interior revolution, I were to lose by succession my faith in Christ, my faith in a personal God, and my faith in spirit, I feel that I should continue to believe in the world. The world, (its value, yes its value and its goodness) – that, when all is said and done, is the first, the last, and the only thing in which I believe. It is by this faith that I live.

So what is the role of faith?   Friedrich Nietzsche, the well-known Nihilist, said of it, “‘Faith means not wanting to know what is true.”  Because their perception of truth is absolute, they are intolerant of people with other experiences and views.  In Marilynne Robinson’s Gilead, she has Rev. John Ames say at page 146, “It seems to me there is less meanness in atheism, by a good measure.” In that such fundamentalism is exclusive and intolerant of other views, it threatens peace and justice.  In a more positive manner, the great Seventeenth Century mathematician, scientist and philosopher, Blaise Pascal, writes, “Faith declares what the senses do not see, but not the contrary of what they see.” That is meaningful to me.

Marcus Borg and Dominic Crossan note that many of the terms that Christians used to describe Jesus were titles already attributed to Augustus Caesar as they appear on the Palatine hill:  Divine, Son of God, God from God, Lord, Redeemer, Liberator, and Savior of the World.  We miss the connection of these original titles to Augustus Caesar and their intended meaning concerning him.  The have been used to support a dualistic view of Jesus and of “the Kingdom of Heaven.  Duality masks the historical Jesus and his teaching.   If we see Jesus’ full humanity, then Jesus’ call to follow him must be taken seriously.

Edward Schillebeeckx, the Catholic priest and theologian who wrote Jesus: an Experiment in Christology, asserts that the historical study of Jesus is vitally important because it gives “a concrete content to faith.” Without that concrete foundation, faith degenerates into mere ideology and risks becoming ephemeral and irrelevant. Further, he writes,

The fundamental issue is what are the evangelists really getting at when reporting the wonders performed by Jesus?

Schillebeeckx then asks,

Even if Jesus had done all this in a historical and literal sense, what would that signify for us here and now?



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The Man, Jesus, and Faith

I will begin this section by being up front about my views of Jesus and the meaning of his life. First, what I do not believe:

I do not believe that Jesus died “because of the Jews.” Nor do I believe that he died because it was according to some Divine Plan by a God who made the world, which operated on certain rules that He created, but Who was powerless to change “the rules,” thereby requiring that “His Son,” Jesus, the “perfect lamb,” be sacrificed in order that God can forgive men, all of whom became guilty because of the Original Sin of Adam and Eve in eating the fruit of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil.  God is neither a terrorist nor vindictive.  Surely the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil is a metaphor for a deeper truth.

My experience of the Truth in any religion is that Truth is not always to be found on the surface.  But, the fact that I need to search for Truth beyond the mere facts of many of the biblical stories does not mean that everyone must do the same or in the same way.  Some people need something more concrete.  I have heard many Christians cite the verse literally, “We love because He first loved us.”  Many of those interpret that verse to say humans are capable of loving only because “He first loved us.” I really don’t understand what that means.  If we are “made in the image of God,” and if God is Love, it is only natural that we would love one another.   Although I believe that the power of love is greater then the power of “belief,” nonetheless, if one must believe first in order to love, what is the difference?  Good fruit is good fruit, and that is what we are called to produce.

I cannot believe in miracles as magic that suspend the laws of nature.  For example, when the story is told in Judges that the sun was made to stand still so that Joshua could complete annihilating an enemy, I believe there are many laws of nature that would make a disaster of that feat if it were literally true. Science is based upon observation and experimentation, and I cannot ignore that.  The United States did not make its moon landings on the basis of a hope and a prayer. When Discoverer and Challenger exploded, we discovered that there was a physical reason for it.  It was not the intervention of God. One of the signs of mentally healthy persons is that they “see things as they are,” not as they want or imagine them to be.   Miracles are not  magical suspension of the laws of nature,  but rather, miracles are “where the eye of faith sees the hand of God at work.”  (I owe that to my professor, Dr. Nida, at Salem College, West Virginia.)

I accept the part of any Christian creed that asserts that Jesus was fully human.   The gospel of John is the one gospel that asserts what amounts to a Gnostic claim that escaped canonical condemnation to extinction (except for the Dead See Scrolls) that Jesus and God are one.   That is the last gospel that was written and it was written after Paul took the gospel to the”Greek world” of the Gentiles.   It is not one of the synoptic Gospels, meaning those first three books of the New Testament share a common view of the life of Jesus.  I see John as a poetical response to the Jesus experience.   Poetry is not an equation but a celebration.   I note that many principles of modern psychology are forecast in Gnosticism.   Modern psychology would understand the role of its symbology in the world of dreams that reflect upon our experiences of life and guide us; they tap into our subconscious.   When I consider the book of John in relation to the Genesis creation stories, I see that we each are children of God, and each of us is made in the image of God.    When we lose sight of that, we risk idolatry.  Jesus, the human, I understand; Jesus, the God – separate from humanity, I do not understand.   Eric Fromm understood the difference.

There are certainly events in our lives without rational explanation.   Not all reality is to be experienced rationally; not everything needs, or deserves, an explanation. Some truths must be simply experienced.    Rationality is only part of the experience of human life.   But I cannot ignore the physicality of our experiences of sense, logic, emotion, and the spiritual.  I do accept that human beings sometimes have accurate premonitions, forebodings or visions of the future that cannot be explained.  As an example, my mother tells of the dream that she had when she heard a voice, much as Samuel heard, say, “It is not unto death.” I do not recall the passage in the Bible that was quoted in her dream, but she recognized it.  The next day, one of my younger brothers told her of a lump that he had on his neck.  They took him to the doctor and the growth was biopsied, resulting in a diagnosis of Hodgkin’s disease, a form of cancer.   We had just had an older church member die of the disease, and at that time it was considered to be fatal.   My brother had his lymph nodes  surgically removed and was seriously threatened by a staph infection while yet in the hospital.  At  that time my parents and younger siblings lived in Rhode Island, not far from Yale University . Yale had developed a high-intensity radiation treatment that offered some hope.   Whether by vision, divine promise, prayer or love, my brother survived that bout with cancer.  Since then, treatments have improved.  He has had two other recurrences, each more aggressively treated, but each has been followed by remission.

My mother’s own mother was also a woman of great faith, and, like Mom, was well grounded.  My mother tells in her written Memories of a time that she asked her mother, “If I have the faith of Peter, could I also walk on water?”  Grandma answered, “When you have to, you will.”   Mom has walked on water,” as she will say, “with God’s help.”   Her weekly e mail correspondence usually ends with, “God is so good.”   Gratitude is a natural expression of faith and worship.  And Christians share that with many “God-filled” persons of many different faiths and religions.

I cannot explain my mother’s experiences when her eyes of faith, or, if you will, her ears of faith, reveal to her the Divine, but I do know that she has had other experiences where she has become aware of circumstances and received some form of knowledge or perception that is beyond normal human experience.  I would not call them paranormal experiences; my mother would say it was God speaking to her.  None of us knows the extent of human powers or of the power of the Divine, “the Living God,” in human lives.   Pres. Abraham Lincoln is said to have spoken the night before his assassination of a vision in which he looked upon his body in a casket lying “in State” at the Capital.   Whether that is true or not, or whether it was reinterpreted following his death, I don’t know.   There is much that I do not know nor need I know.

I believe that there is a power of healing that is beyond mere medical intervention,  the extent of which we do not know.  But, if I have appendicitis and I must choose between prayer and surgery, I will choose surgery and be thankful for any prayer support that may be offered.  I also trust  that there are certain laws of nature that I can rely upon: if I throw a ball up in the air, and it is not caught or diverted by an object, gravity will pull it back to the earth; as a student of physics, I am confident that there are certain laws which are mathematically expressed that will determine its rate of dissent.  It is that kind of faith and knowledge which  enabled NASA to make its moon landings , its Mars landings, and exploration upon  each. I am sure that there were a lot of prayers offered at the time of the NASA moon landings , but that was not achieved except for immense scientific understanding, engineering skills, analysis of the circumstances that would be encountered, including of the demands of the mission and preparation.

Some things may change in ways that we do not expect, whether it is due to human action or not, but for my purposes today I can rely upon observations of science and personal experience that, based upon the facts known to me, appear to be accurate. Things are relative; I understand that.  But, if I choose to participate in my future then I must do my preparations in a real world as it is revealed to me, trusting that if I do something well, something good will come from it; and that whatever comes of that effort, I can learn from it rather than the victim of it. That is my faith.  It is sufficient that I live in the light that I have today.  The following is my attempt to remove the scales from my eyes so that I can live in that light.

About “God” I cannot say anything specific and concrete; I tend to agree with the mystics of each of the Abrahamic religions.  I am inclined toward Moses Maimonides’ Doctrine of Negative ttributes.  However, I’m not sure that we can even describe what God is not.  As the psalmist says, wherever I make my bed, “Thou art there.” I believe that.

I believe in a Divine presence and activity that is larger than a God that fills the empty spaces of our knowledge. If, for example, we were to discover why evolution has been capable of coordinating a number of changes to achieve a particular bodily or intellectual function, it would be just another piece of knowledge that we are able to gather, but likely there will always be a mystery no matter how much we know.  In my experience and in science that I trust, nothing is created out of nothing; energy and matter are simply exchanged or their form is changed. I think that the mystics, whether Jewish, Christian, or Muslim, were on the right track: the world is filled with mystery.  That is enough for me without needing to explain it, except as it may help me to act.  Whether or not some phenomenon appears to someone to be the action of “God” or “Allah” can always be debated.  It will be revealed only to the eye of faith, and that not contrary to the evidence. I believe that we are “given” our senses, our memories and our intellect to be used wisely, accepting that there is yet more – a great mystery, not a great magic show.

As a man, which the creeds acknowledge, I believe Jesus was subject, not only to the same temptations, as creeds  hold, but also to the same physicality of himself and physicality in laws of nature about him.  In my view, he died, not  “because of of the Jews,” but in large part because he violated the rules of the powerful of that day, the religious authorities: he refused to allow the law to prevent him from doing good or from caring about people.  Every religion has its adherents who take the stories of that religion in a literal, exclusivist way, robbing them of their underlying truth and power.  It is the same with Christianity.  Too often the zealots become the religious authorities whatever the religion.  That is what Jesus was up against during his lifetime, and, unfortunately, that is also what we all are up against when, in every one of the Abrahamic religions, and likely among all religions, fundamentalist zealots, promising certainty in an uncertain world, come to powerful positions in that religion and in their society because they tell people what they want to hear.   However, because of their own disguised uncertainty, which they refuse to acknowledge themselves, they destroy all those who they see as a threat to their own idolized faith. Such persons, whatever their religion, Abrahamic or not, are unable to live a life of faith, but need self aggrandize and control in order to maintain the appearance of certainty. These types of persons develop styles of hypervigilance and aggressive defense, because the paths to that certainty are constantly changing with life, the essence of which is change.  The very thing that makes us human, growth and change, they cannot tolerate, but must destroy.

Enough said.  Now, on to a discussion of who Jesus was, what the meaning of his life is for me, and how Christian dogma developed.  That will be the subject of my next post.

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The Role of Creed in the Development of Christian Liturgical Music

By way of introducing this section, I don’t seek to explain why creeds developed as they did, but to understand the circumstances at that time that likely contributed to the development of those creeds.

What one of us has not, when facing a recent significant health challenge, or loss of a loved one, a hope or a sense of trust dashed, asked why?  If that tragic loss is very much in the eye of the public, how much more do we protest, “But why?”  Or, when facing some tragedy, as the unexpected loss of a loved one, a serious accident, or a serious criminal violation of our person or that of a loved one, asked, “Why?” Or, “What if?”

That was the atmosphere that the disciples and other followers of Jesus experienced following his crucifixion. They had such high hopes for Jesus. Jesus was a remarkable, loving, courageous person, a friend of all who were oppressed and an outspoken opponent of all social powers and persons who oppressed them.  During his lifetime, Jesus directly confronted those who burdened others with petty rules of religious practice. He and his disciples violated them in ways that did no harm to others in order that they might do good for others. But, Jesus became a threat to the then-existing religious authorities. He was committed to the Truth in a way that Gandhi would have appreciated.  He was committed to loving all and excluding none; he pursued Truth, whatever the cost; and he comforted the dispossessed, the oppressed, and all those who suffered.  He saw and taught that to do so was God’s will, and he was committed to such acts of love even though it resulted in violating the oppressive laws, which, in Jesus time and in his society, happened to be those of the religious authorities.  I recognize it as Civil Disobedience. When I see the examples of Mahatma Gandhi, Martin Luther King, or another who violates openly an unjust law for Truth and Justice, I think of Jesus’ loving example and commitment to Truth and Justice, whatever the consequences.  And I think that each one of these people was killed by someone or some group who felt threatened.

I have not always seen things that way. I grew up in the North East of the United States, Rhode Island, at a time of civil unrest known as the Civil Rights Era in the mid-20th century. “White Anglo-Saxon society,” which was my environment, became frightened of the social unrest caused by the boycotts and civil disobedience led by Martin Luther King.

At that same time, the Black Muslims became dramatically prominent. In the mid- to late 1960s, I was attending a national church conference where a film was played which highlighted the hatred of the Black Muslims for whites, including the reverse racist, hate spewing Malcolm X.  In truth, when those who have become fearful of losing what they have, or even having to share it, too often their response is to react in fear to keep their hold on it. Not until many years later, about 1990, when the movie of Malcolm X came out did I discover that his own father was a Christian minister who suffered great racial hatred and violence from white people.  That, understandably, embittered Malcolm and he reacted in hatred. That hatred led to crime, for which he was imprisoned. While in prison, he was introduced to the Black Muslims who shared his hatred. He embraced them and their ideology and they him.  Malcolm was not only driven by hatred, but he also had great verbal and charismatic skills to articulately and dramatically express it. The Black Muslims fanned the flames of his anger and hatred, and they used him for their own political agendas. In time, as I recall, Malcolm became disillusioned by the hatred of the Black Muslims, and he went to Mecca, as all good Muslims intend to do, where he discovered, not a hateful Islam, but a loving Islam where vengeance had no place. There, he also discovered forgiveness.  That was an inclusive religious society in which color did not matter at all.  Whether black or white, all were included within the circle of love that warmed the heart and healed the soul. It was a peaceful society.  I discovered, when watching the movie of his life, that when Malcolm X returned to the United States, he was a converted Muslim, who, so far as I could see, embraced a loving and peace-making religion that, on an ethical plane, was little different from that of Jesus.  Indeed, the Black Muslims, with whom he was previously so strongly identified, became threatened by this man of peace who had abandoned their agenda of hate for an Islamic religion of love; the Black Muslims became the religious authorities that Malcolm dared disobey for a higher purpose, the Truth.  Ultimately, the Black Muslims were so threatened by his message of peace and love, quite like the position that Jesus was in with the religious authorities of his day, that they  conspired to kill him, as did the religious leaders of Jesus’ day. As the Pharisees conspired with Judas, who was one of Jesus’ disciples, so did the Black Muslims.  They secretly infiltrate a religious service that Malcolm was leading, where they murdered him as he preached his message of love, forgiveness and peace.  I recall no news of that murder at the time that it actually occurred, and I was utterly unaware of it until I saw it depicted in the movie.  I am sure that the followers of Malcolm X were asking questions similar to those asked by the followers of Jesus: Why? How did it come to this? What meaning does his life have, if any, after his death?

Those who looked to Malcolm X as their hope for the future did not have the resources that Jesus’ disciples had to redeem the memory of Jesus from his ignoble end.  Jesus’ disciples had both a Jewish tradition and a pervasive Greco-Roman civilization and myth to aid them; the followers of Malcolm X had no such staple of resources to draw upon.  They were originally brought here as slaves where they served their “masters.” Harriet Beecher Stowe in her book, Uncle Tom’s Cabin, describes their deplorable conditions and treatment.  Even upon their emancipation, blacks did not have the same opportunities that whites had for education, financial or social improvement;  nor did they have the leisure time required for reflection and the arts. Although they were “freed,” yet they were oppressed, excluded by mainstream white society, and treated in various degrees as less than fully human.  Although, during slavery, the Blacks had great hope for a better day, that day was “In that great getting’ up morning, fair thee well,” they sang during their toil; but they had little if any hope of that in their own lifetimes. Nor did they have leisure time or the education to reflect upon their plight or their hope, to write about it, or to devote to artistic expression about it, except so far as they were able sing as they toiled.  That contributed to the one great artistic and expressive form available to them: the Negro spiritual. While that may have been some consolation and eased to some small degree the pain of slavery, it did not provide a tradition that the Blacks in the Civil Rights Era could draw upon to console, reinterpret, encourage, and give hope to Malcolm’s followers after his death. They had no means of explaining how a man committed to Allah and spreading news of forgiveness, peace and love, could be gunned down in the prime of his life, when he had given so much hope to so many.

The Jews, on the other hand, had a rich heritage of prophecy looking to a time to come of peace, when the lion would lie with the lamb, when there would be no more war.  But the time when the prophecy was made was also a time when both pagans and Jews sacrificed animals to their gods (the Jews to God) to please him, to ask a favor, or to ask for forgiveness. That continued into the first century.  You may recall that Jesus, upon his entry into Jerusalem cast over the tables at the temple where merchants were making a profit selling animals for sacrifice.  The disciples also had an example of the Paschal lamb which was a lamb without blemish that was sacrificed according to a prescribed ritual. See    The Jews of the Old Testament had another rite in which the sins of the community were symbolically placed upon a goat that was then punished in the place of the people to cleanse them of guilt: the “scape goat.”  See   They had the example of the Passover which originated in the story of the liberation of the Jews from slavery in Egypt when the lamb’s blood was smeared on the posts of the door to protect the occupants so that the Angel of Death would pass over them as it passed through Egypt, killing, we are told, the first born of both human and animal. Jesus’ disciples and followers had a great tradition of praise, thankfulness, forgiveness, and hope, with many vehicles for each available to help them understand how this innocent man, so full of love for God, and so caring for all could be crucified as a common criminal.

See, also, The Need for Creeds at and the evolution of religion and the benefit of writing at

Early Islamic Chant

For articles describing Islamic chant, see

For an example of call and response (note cantor’s embellishment’s and rhythic instrumental accompaniment) see:

For an example of a cantor reciting in chant at a mosque:

For modern Islamic chant in English, entitled “Forgive Me” and one that I find uniquely beautiful and meaningful to me, see:


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