It’s 2013, and if I want to hear music I don’t have to be deprived for a single split-second. I just pop in one of the 400 CDs I own. After an entire morning of one CD after the other, I decide to go get some exercise at the gym, but first I go online and download a couple of new songs from iTunes for 99 cents each and upload them to my iPod Nano which already contains nearly an entire gigabyte of music.
Driving along, I turn on my radio and casually sift through every musical genre known to humankind, via AM, FM, or satellite. Arriving at the gym I go inside and am immediately engulfed by classic rock playing on the overhead speakers, which I hear only up to the point that I don my iPod. After my workout I stop by a coffee shop and order a cup of slightly overpriced joe to the sounds of 90s alt rock, served by a barista with one ear bud in her ear and an iPod tucked in her jeans pocket. Employees back in the kitchen are standing around a small battered disc player singing along to “Paradise City” by Guns ‘n’ Roses, which is entirely different from the song being played in the store, which is not the song on the barista’s iPod, and none of them are the same as the song playing in my head, which has been lingering there ever since my workout.
You want music? Yeah, we got music (pardon the slang). What we don’t have is any sane sense of balance.
It is understandable that we inundate ourselves with music. Music is infinite and mysterious; it speaks to our souls in a direct and unique manner, and the accompanying rush is highly addictive. As a composer, I can sympathize with anyone adrift in the ecstasy of music, listening to its meter and tones, studying its forms, reveling in the emotions and passions it inspires. It’s a very tempting substitute for God in a society that wants a god with no moral expectations or doctrinal entanglements.
But the time has come for Catholics to turn off the music.
One reason is that so much of the music we all hear every day is of poor quality. It is badly written, mindless, repetitive, dull, and therefore unedifying, and it can be a near occasion of sin.
As much as my wife and I try to laugh it off, “Lady Marmalade” by Labelle is a song about prostitutes. “Love the One You’re With” by Stephen Stills is a song about promiscuity. “Only the Good Die Young” by Billy Joel — perhaps one of the catchiest pop songs ever written — is a song encouraging young Catholic virgins to fornicate.
A deeper reason to hit the “off” button is because music, even the very best, can distract us from God. This is not only a problem of listening to too much music too much of the time, but can simply be a matter of listening to a little music at the wrong time.
God loves silence. In the 19th chapter of the first Book of Kings, the prophet Elijah falls into a state of despair that only God can relieve, but Elijah is too vexed and angry to hear him. Elijah experiences in succession a blasting wind, an earthquake, and a roaring fire — they may have just as well been a Foo Fighters song, a symphony by Beethoven, and a Nelson Riddle arrangement of “Something’s Gotta Give” with Sinatra on vocals. None of them are God, as awesome as these gifts from God are. It is not until Elijah listens to the “tiny, whispering sound” that he can finally discern what God is trying to tell him.
This Lent, let’s do without music at least part of each day. Identify times and places where you might invite silence in. For instance, on your way to work, don’t turn on the radio. Be still; let your mind be at rest; pray. You already know that your work day is going to be a riot of noise and activity. Why start early? Maintain a little silence. When you’re exercising, try doing it without music. On Sunday mornings, definitely guard the quietude. That is the way par excellence to prepare for the holy sacrifice of the Mass.
Turn off the music, just for a little while. Silence, you’ll find out, is more than golden. It is godly.
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