Give Music a Rest!

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Musical rests indicate the absence of sound but not the end of the music. Rests add depth and emotion to a musical score through the use of silence. They create and relieve tension. They allow the players and singers to pause and take a breath before the next difficult musical passage. The silence of a rest creates a temporary break in the action and keeps the notes from being strung together in breathless chaos. So playing music without rests is like driving a car without brakes.

We rely on the sound of our music and words of our songs to manage and control others. A frantic stream flows from us in an attempt to straighten others out. We want so desperately for them to agree with us, to see and even sing things our way. We evaluate, judge, condemn and devour congregants with our notes. Silence as one of the deepest spiritual disciplines puts a stop to that.[1]

Scripture is certainly not silent on silence… “That’s enough! Now know that I am God” (Ps. 46:10). “Don’t be quick with your mouth or say anything hastily before God, because God is in heaven, but you are on earth. Therefore, let your words be few” (Eccles. 5:2). There’s “a time for keeping silent and a time for speaking” (Eccles. 3:7).

John Ruskin, a Victorian era English art critic said this of the silence of music and rests:

There is no music in a rest, but there is the making of music in it. In our whole life-melody the music is broken off here and there by rests, and we foolishly think we have come to the end of the tune. God sends a time of forced leisure, sickness, disappointed plans, frustrated efforts and makes a sudden pause in the choral hymn of our lives, and we lament that our voices must be silent, and our part missing in the music which ever goes up to the ear of the Creator. Not without design does God write the music of our lives. But be it ours to learn the tune, and not be dismayed at the rests. They are not to be slurred over nor to be omitted, nor to destroy the melody, nor to change the keynote. If we look up, God Himself will beat the time for us. With the eye on Him, we shall strike the next note full and clear.[2]

Worship is a divine conversation that requires not only the sound of our voices and instruments but also the silence of our hearing and listening. Our worship music noise can mute the distinct voice of God that is often only discernible in the silence. In the midst of our self-generated noise, we can miss his healing, comforting and encouraging words of hope such as “I am with you, well done, you are forgiven and I am weeping with you.”

Making noise as our only offering can create monological worship. One-sided sound can monopolize the conversation. But the foundation of meaningful worship is instead dialogical. Dialogue is an interactive exchange of two or more participants. Healthy conversations include a balance of discussion and response, listening as well as speaking.

Since God began the conversation and graciously invited us to join Him in it, our worship could then be enhanced and renewed when we stop trying to monopolize that conversation with our responsive noise only. So in order to again hear and listen to God’s side of the conversation, maybe it’s time to concur with Samuel in our services of worship, “Speak, LORD. Your servant is listening” (1 Sam. 3:9).

 

[1] Richard J. Foster, Freedom of Simplicity: Finding Harmony in a Complex World (New York: HarperOne, 2005), 68.

[2] E.T. Cook and Alexander Wedderburn, eds., The Works of John Ruskin (New York: Longmans, Green and Co., 1903), 247.

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