*Note: This is adapted from a sermon I preached at Hope Mennonite Church on January 22, 2012. It is based on the hymn text Strong Son of God, immortal Love, which can be found here: http://www.cyberhymnal.org/htm/s/t/strongso.htm
This is the second of two parts.
I believe that one of the things music can do is connect us with that which is greater than us, music can help us participate in this mystery. To help me explain, I'd like to turn to one of my favourite childhood book series, The Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis.
One of the most moving sections of Lewis' Chronicles of Narnia is the creation myth found in The Magician's Nephew, thematically the first book in the series, though one of the last to be written. It is here we find the beginnings of the land known as Narnia.
Halfway through the book a group of characters find themselves in what is described as an empty world. A world without creation, a world before creation. There is no light, no sound, there is nothing.
As a way to calm themselves one character begins singing a hymn of Thanksgiving. Their voices ring out in the nothingness and they are put at ease.
As they finish another voice begins singing from elsewhere. It is not one of their group, and it sounds very far away. They cannot tell which direction it comes from.
What's more, there seems to be no discernible melody or structure. It is simply notes sung, one after the other.
One character describes it as, “The most beautiful noise he had ever heard.” and that, “it was so beautiful, he could hardly stand it.”
In The Chronicles of Narnia Lewis uses the character of the lion Aslan to represent Christ. In this empty world a light begins to appear, and it is Aslan who is singing.
It soon becomes clear that this light appearing is doing so because of this song.
Aslan is singing creation into existence. From his song grass grows, rivers begin to flow and mountains rise. As he sings each thing into being, it seems to respond with a song of it's own.
There is a different tune for each bit of existence. The tone moves from quiet and contemplative to joyous and wondrous, depending on what is coming into being. The oceans have a different song than the stars, the animals different than the trees.
This song is not a solo, but rather each piece of creation has a part. The song of Christ is harmonious, as everything adds it's voice.
It is said many times that the characters do not understand Aslan's song, that it is just beyond them, but this does not keep them participating in it. Their presence, their voices, become a part of it. Aslan's song may be unknowable to them, but they have a part to sing all the same.
I hope that you have all had musical experiences that exist beyond words. That music has created an emotion that would challenge any explanation. This is one of the great powers of music. To engage someone in a ways other than intellectual or informational.
I've always liked to understand music, or any art really, as coming at oursevles sideways. If you have not had these experiences, do not feel bad. We are all different and need different ways of engaging.
I do think that this is some of what is happening as we sing together as a congregation. To use Lewis' metaphor, we are joining our voices in with the song of creation. Not singularly, but as an example of that creation coming together and praising. Music can act as a window to the great mystery of our world and our lord. To that place that cannot be described by our little systems.
Tennyson has beautifully laid out this point in his words for Strong Son of God, immortal Love. We cannot know God, there will always be a mystery to the creator. Such as the mystery of why a loved one dies. But we can have ways of participating in this mystery. Music is one of these ways.
There are a few different ways to read the last lines of this hymn. And maybe it is a mistake to read it so closely to Lewis' metaphor of the song of creation. But I like to read it as a call by Tennyson to do just this. To sing as one the song that brought us into existence. And to hopefully some day recognize that our ways of understanding are limited, and that we must live with and celebrate the mystery of God.
And I will end with these last words of Tennyson's, Verse 5, “Let Knowledge grow from more to more, but more of reverence in us dwell, that mind and soul according well, may make one music as before.”