Praying Like Music
by Kai Garmo Ward
As Henri Nouwen wrote in his Geneses Diary: “People expect too much from speaking, too little from the silence,” I too find that my deepest prayer experiences are those without words. For me, music often instigates these moments when my heart strings are strummed either in a rumbling purr or a throbbing ache, often by the violin or cello and sometimes the harp, flute or acoustic guitar. It’s those magical moments when the music itself becomes a soul, a being in itself ~ beating, throbbing, crying, dancing, shouting, singing.
In both The Chronicles of Narnia (C. S. Lewis) and The Silmarillion (J. R. R. Tolkein) creation is spoken of being sung into being. Every note, every harmony, every melody physically expresses itself as a flower, a tree, a wind, a thought, a colour, etc. In Praying like Music, we seek to enter into a song or melody that deeply resonates within our core. As we do this, we invite and encourage the physical action (swaying, kneeling, etc) or interior imagery/emotions to manifest with no limit nor protocol.
On a personal note, I (Kai) am deep amidst some extremely difficult, stress-inducing and acutely agonizing relational, physical and emotional situations that require from me a lot of courage, discernment and pressing into blinding new paradigms. Such being the case, I have been experimenting with different ways in which to fully dwell in – not just visit – God’s peace even while standing (or crawling, to be more accurate) in the bull’s eye of chaos. I’ve tried different modes of exercise, an array of motivational self-talks and different types of prayers, a handful of “only-happy-books” before bed, or “only-happy-music” throughout the day, more sleep, less sleep, more quiet time, more Scripture reading, etc…
Although each of these certainly brought goodness to my day, I found what silenced my aching heart and soul most thoroughly (in addition to some of the above, I’d like to note) was exploring the idea of “Praying Like Music”. Not just praying with music, but praying like music, for music is a prayer on its own. I found that if I could relax my rigid notions and brittle posture, change the grip and let go of the words, I could then crawl into the music itself like Lucy into the wardrobe and Madeleine L’Engle’s A Wind at the Door. This allowed me to experience what it would be like for me to be this note, that song, those strings on the guitar, these soul-belly aches of the cello. Praying Like Music helped me to express, embrace and thus quietly ease the frantic places within that were deeper than words. I believe music (a.k.a. art) is the ‘fine tooth-comb’ reaching depths and nuances of interior spaces where the ‘brush’ of words cannot. Both are needed, each has its limitations, each its purpose. I found Praying Like Music is good for those hard-to-reach places. Enjoy the exploration.
To experience yourself as a song, instrument or melody to God. To rest in yourself a little bit more. To find attune-ment of soul, releasing the heart to dance or cry out freely, without needing to understand why. Choosing to consciously “be” in the deeper places, moving with what moves your heart by experience alone, not by questioning, analyzing, judging nor limiting your heart’s response at each given moment. Embrace each moment and each movement of the heart as it is released and experienced.
Find a piece of music that emotionally pulls at your heart strings. Preferably an instrumental piece.
If you choose a melody with words, try for something in a different language or something similar to Taize: contemplative, reflective and often with repetition of only a few words. This way you can focus on how the piece resonates within you as opposed to being distracted by what is said.
For those who find it difficult to get into musical pieces, you may want to try a song that is sung in a different language or a piece from a filmscore with a reoccurring thematic tune to focus on (often found in epic-style films or Hans Zimmerman scores).
If possible, avoid songs with lots of words or generic tunes. The idea is for music that draws out the senses, as opposed to dull or distract them into the background. Also, seek to avoid dark or stressful music.
Take time to find a comfortable position (standing, sitting, etc.) Pay attention to how your heart, spirit and body feel before, and then after as well.
Play the music. If it is shorter you may want to put it on repeat a few times. If it is longer, no need.
Welcome the music into your body, likening your own creation and continual change with the creation and progression of the music. If there is more than one instrument, choose to focus either on a particular instrument, reoccurring note or melody/harmony.
What would it feel like to be that instrument or melody? Would it be a motion for you? Or an image? A thought or colour?
How deep does are you allowing this music to go inside of you? Is it like wetting your feet in a stream? Plunging into deep space? Galloping on a horse across the mountains?How does this music make you feel? Do you want to dance? Cry? Whisper? Embrace someone you love? Show it! Express how you feel!
Allow your heart and soul to speak to you about the effect your present experience is having on your body, your heart, your soul.* If your spirit were to express this music, what would that look like (dancing, crying, flying, searching, etc.)? Think of your heart as a toddler who cannot yet talk: How would your heart describe (not in words, but in heart/toddler language) this music? How does your body want to respond?
Allow your heart and body (not your head) the freedom to initiate movement and expression that helps your heart-longing emerge from the music.
Continue with this until it seems as though you have actually been able to integrate your body and soul with your heart’s desire in the music.*
Allow a time of quiet afterward to deepen the sense of connection with your body, heart and spirit.Take time to be with God in what has emerged.*
What did you learn? How did it make you feel? How do you feel now? How did you find yourself changing or becoming as you aligned your being with the music and its progression?
Reflect on what it looked like for God to sing you, specifically, into being.