An address given by Charles Hulin on Sep.16, 2001 at Branch's Baptist Church in Richmond VA.
As this service was being planned, I was asked to speak to you about the integration of faith and music. In light of this week’s events, I have found myself questioning what the place of music is in a time like this. On the face of it, and considering the context, this may seem like a frivolous query. But to one called to be involved with the world through music, it is a crucial question. It is linked to work, and work is linked to the continuation of life and meaning.
Heinous acts and horrible catastrophes challenge us to continue our belief in God or to reject Him. We are challenged to embrace our souls or to turn to base materialism. I believe that musical expression and musical activity are often connected to soulfulness, and soulfulness points to God. Several passages in the Bible suggest that music is closely connected to our beings. In the book of Job we find the words "My lyre is turned to mourning, and my pipe to the voice of those that weep" (Job 30:31). This is how the writer chose to close a passage in which he was explaining that he had come to the end of himself. Jesus sang a hymn before His darkest hour. He seems to have seen music as a spiritual act, and an act of significance in moments of despair and crisis. Music can give us something tangible of faith, that is, it can give us an experience of continuity in a time of disruption. This spiritual act of music consists of standing before God as creatures and creators, made in His image.
Music has a place in a time like this because music is a gift from God. Music serves as a sign that God is. People of faith who seek signs of God in music seldom fail to find details and layers of organization that point to His Glory. His fingerprint is there. Music is also a gift from God in that it helps us to imagine what He is like. In the moods of pure and profound music we can sense the austerity of God and the love of God. Indeed, music is a gift from God for it shows us that "God is and that He is a rewarder of them that diligently seek Him" (Hebrews 11:6).
Music has a place in a time like this because music provides emotional help. What has happened has left us numb, but we need to begin to feel again. At choir practice on Wednesday night I was introduced to an anthem by Brahms entitled "Let Nothing Ever Grieve Thee." Its message is one of great comfort, and as the comfort of this music washed over me, it made it possible for me to begin to grieve. Because of the recent tragic events, numerous members of the arts community are hearing and seeing the works with which they deal in new ways. I, for one, have heard depths of grief in music that I had never recognized before. On Wednesday morning, one of my students told me that she couldn’t listen to music when she was so upset. Later she conceded that listening did in fact help with her emotions.
Finally, music has a place in a time like this because music tells us that something and someone are okay. The presence of music is a sign of blessing. It means that someone or some culture has the leisure to spend time on artistic activity. The persistence of music, of expression, and of sound itself are linked to the persistence of life. A piece of music and a performance of a piece of music are filled with freedom and choices.
On Tuesday, terrorists perpetrated destructive acts that sent shock waves around the world. We are tempted to feel powerless in the aftermath. But we must not forget that each of us has freedom and power to make choices that can release holy and healing energy that points people to the hope of Jesus Christ. As the bedrock of civilization has been shaken, I believe that we must live for others now more than ever before. As artists, we must continue the work of expression which is what our world needs from us. We were designed for this work with special sensitivity to emotion and imagination, two things that these events have stirred so deeply. What more honest, noble, or appropriate task could we have than to respond with sensitivity to these days of need through our works, our teaching, our interpretations of music, and our performances?
It is my prayer that each of us, whatever our calling may be, will have a deep sense of God’s purpose in our lives during these days.