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ReVision

Everyday Glory

Music can shape a sound mind.

The Mind of Christ in His World: Part 2 (3)

In it were all kinds of four-footed animals of the earth, wild beasts, creeping things, and birds of the air. Acts 10.12

Glory in the mundane
Sometimes it can take something vast and dramatic, expansive in vision – like a work of art – to shape our thinking more in the direction of a sound mind. The Divine Artist had a message for Peter, but He wanted to sink it deep into his soul, because He intended to change the way Peter thought about the Gospel, the Gentiles, and the Kingdom of God.

So instead of a message in a bottle, or a simple word from heaven, God gave Peter a grand, sweeping vision as a window on the mind of God. Included in this vision were all kinds of animals, but not just any old animals. These were animals that Jews considered common, unclean, and beyond the pale of what good Jews would think of eating. There was nothing good about these animals, since they had no practical use for the Jews, especially not for eating.

But this is precisely what God told Peter to do: kill and eat whatever he saw on the blanket before him. By so doing God was saying to the apostle that His glory is destined to radiate through even the most common, ordinary, and beyond-the-pale situations and people – even from among the Gentiles. It took a grand artistic vision to set Peter’s mind for what God was about to do.

Great artists from the Christian tradition have understood this truth, that the glory of God can be discovered even in everyday, familiar situations and things. One of my favorite expositions of glory in the mundane is the Four Seasons cycle by Italian composer Antonio Vivaldi. Vivaldi uses the unique voices of a small orchestra to evoke the sounds, moods, and activities of the seasons of the year, in four concerti originally written for a young girls’ ensemble. Here is music that can teach you to appreciate the seasons of the year even more than you already do.

Or take Johann Sebastian Bach, for example, perhaps the greatest composer of the Baroque period, and a devoted Christian. Bach began many of his compositions by putting the initials “JJ” at the top of his sheet. By so doing, he used Latin shorthand for “Jesus, help!” to invoke the Lord’s Presence for his work. When a piece was finished to his liking, Bach would put the initials “SDG” at the end – soli deo gloria, “for the glory of God alone.”

One might expect to discover in such compositions music to lift our minds to new heights of renewal.

But not all Bach’s music was “spiritual” in nature. He wrote a good bit of what is referred to as “secular” music, in which his theme had nothing directly to do with Kingdom matters. But those themes were nonetheless garbed in such glorious music, that it can be difficult to tell the difference between music from these two categories.

Bach often used music to emphasize the beauty and glory of God in everyday things. He loved coffee and considered it one of the great joys of his busy and active life. When Bach died, his personal possessions included at least two coffee pots, one of silver and another of brass, as well as some coffee services.

Bach frequented the coffee houses in Leipzig and, on occasion, wrote a “secular” cantata for the enjoyment of his friends. The cantata was a brief oratorio sung by usually four voices. Bach wrote scores of these for use in the morning services at church, but he also penned a fair number of cantatas that had no explicitly spiritual purpose.

One of the most delightful of these is the “Coffee Cantata,” a little comedy relating a dispute between a father and his daughter,Lieschen, who loved coffee. Her father insisted that she stop drinking coffee and get married. The wily waif went out and brought back for her father the village idiot, professing her love and intending to marry him. Astonished, the father rejected her plans (just as she knew he would) and insisted that he would find her a proper husband.

Great! She agreed to his proposal on one condition: the husband he secured for her had to allow her to drink coffee. You can guess who got her way in the end.  

The high point of the cantata comes with Lieschen singing “Heute noch”, in which she urges her father to rush right out and find that beau.

Glory in the music
I once played excerpts from this cantata – in German – side by side with excerpts from a Bach sacred cantata for a group of scholars and theologians. None could tell the difference between them. And this is precisely the point of Bach’s art: all music, as Bach composed it, is a testimony to the grandeur and pleasure of God. Bach’s secular cantatas are as rich in all the wonderful melodies, lyrics, and musical devices of baroque culture as any of his great sacred pieces. And when he immerses secular themes in glorious music, it’s just his way of reminding us, and teaching us to see and delight in the glory of God in everyday situations and things.

For Bach, even the most ordinary things of life could convey a message of divine glory and pleasure. Great art functions like this, using common, everyday subjects to celebrate the grace and majesty of the living God. And great art, carefully considered, can shape our minds to see the world and think about everyday life against the backdrop of heaven’s glory, with the result that our minds become increasingly mature in the mind of Christ.

God’s vision accomplished this in Peter, and His work through artists in all genres can help to shape our minds and strengthen our souls for His Kingdom and glory.

For reflection
1.  Can you think of a piece of music – a hymn perhaps – that has had a powerful effect on how you think about life and the world? Explain.

2.  Part of the power of music lies in its ability to appeal to our affections – delight, joy, dread, fear, and so forth. How do the affections, in turn, affect our minds? Does how we feel about something shape the way we think about it? Can you give an example?

3.  If there is glory to be found in enjoying a cup of coffee, what else in our everyday life can open a window to the glory of God? Give some examples.

Next steps – Transformation: Listen to either Bach’s “Coffee Cantata” or Vivaldi’s “The Four Seasons” (you can link to either via YouTube). As you listen, let your mind engage with the story or images suggested by the music. Can you see how music like this can affect the way you think?

T. M. Moore

Luther’s great hymn, “A Mighty Fortress is Our God”, is an example of visionary music that gives praise to God. Our book, A Mighty Fortress, looks at the stanzas of Luther’s hymn to encourage and embolden us in seeking God’s Kingdom and glory. Order your free copy by clicking here.

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All the installments in this “Strong Souls” series are available in PDF by clicking here. Check out our newest feature, Readings from the Celtic Revival (click here).

Thanks for your prayers and support
If you find ReVision helpful in your walk with the Lord, please seek the Lord, asking Him whether you should contribute to the support of this ministry with your financial gifts. As the Lord leads, you can use the Contribute button at the website to give with a credit card, or you can send your gift to The Fellowship of Ailbe, 360 Zephyr Road, Williston, VT 05495.

Except as indicated, Scripture taken from the New King James Version. © Copyright 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

T.M. Moore

T. M. Moore is principal of The Fellowship of Ailbe, a spiritual fellowship in the Celtic Christian tradition. He and his wife, Susie, make their home in the Champlain Valley of Vermont.
Books by T. M. Moore

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