Music to my Fears

Thank you for opening this blog. It is one not to be rushed…. just in case 🙂

It is perhaps awkward to admit that I have usually approached life with a glass-half-empty mindset. It was not something I decided upon, it merely seemed to be my natural disposition. Which can be rather depressing. I have met others who are the exact opposite and they approach life with an optimism and positivity that I have envied. Their company was much more fun than mine – at times!

We’re all cut from the same cloth. Our personalities tend to settle somewhere along that line between half-empty and half-full. Neither end of the spectrum is ‘right’ or necessarily ‘better’. It is how we are wired or put together, scrambled with life experience, genetics, mindset, and probably what we ate for breakfast. The bottom line is that what we do have in common – is the same bottle containing the same amount of liquid. We need one another, both the empty and the full version.

Life is a challenge, God knows – and so do we. Every day there are many reasons to despair, be afraid, or to rejoice and be thankful. Who speaks the loudest on any given day? Who do we listen to? It’s an eternal tension between the heart and the mind. The heart beating to music, the mind recording the notes and pitch. The heart feels, hurts, and rejoices. The mind explains, recounts the facts, and gives perspective. The mind can write lyrics to which the heart sometimes interjects, “That’s great, now let’s play the music.”

Sometimes the mind needs to be still and and allow itself to be cradled by the heart. To be reminded of love and affirmation, “You are a beloved child, understanding is not everything, trust God for what you cannot yet see, or explain.” Likewise, the heart benefits from listening to the mind. “Why are you believing that? What are facts, promises, reasons giving rise to those feelings?” While heart and mind can certainly irritate each other, the blessing is ultimately found in their mutual embrace. In allowing one another space to breathe. In appreciating what each other bring to ‘the bottle/the battle’. In making time to grace the other with attention and respect; the spotlight, center stage, the opportunity to influence, complement, and lead.

Knowing ourselves is the key. Being aware of our tendencies without heading down rabbit holes of self recrimination or futile wishes to be different, or like someone else. Everyone has these elements, some more refined and developed than others. Faith is found linking them together encouraging the two to nurture each other and to continue to engage and grow.

In my life music has been a gift to help this confluence of mind and heart to counter my ‘half-empty’ tendency. Particularly when they have turned up with grace and conviction to bring the best out of one another. The mind insists that the music has substance, roots, foundations, and truth. The heart colors outside the lines and refuses to neglect hope, joy, laughter, and a lavish anointing of emotion. I’ve never been one for sentimentality or fluff without fact. I don’t prefer to stick my head in the sand, whistle in the dark, or to pretend life is great when at times it sucks.

I appreciate honesty. I admire the ability to acknowledge the darkness and pain while bravely defying it’s gravitational pull into despair by declaring even greater truths rooted in God and overcoming. That’s when the heart and mind are magnificent in their symphonic harmony and crescendo of hope. At other times they grow quiet and sing songs of lament with tenderness, giving expression to pain that allows me to vent and be validated rather than corrected or tolerated. Both can happen almost at the same time. When they do, the mind finds rest while the heart knows peace – even in the midst of the unresolved, the storm, and the mystery.

Three examples. The most well-known chorus sung around the world is one penned by a schoolmaster born in 1637, Thomas Ken. He was a chaplain at Winchester College in London. He wrote three hymns for the boys to sing (they had never sung anything other than Psalms before). Each hymn ended with the stanza:

Praise God from Whom all blessings flow; Praise Him, all creatures here below; Praise Him above, ye heavenly host; Praise Father, Son, and Holy Ghost.

In those few lines the mind and heart declare God’s faithfulness and ultimate supremacy, no matter what. In the version below, Amanda Cook sings the stanza repeatedly. Sometimes people have protested that they struggle with ongoing repetition. I think that’s the mind speaking when the heart desires to engage. Truth on occasion needs time to linger and settle, to seep into our spirit like water in a dry land. Hence repetition. It takes time for what hits the head to penetrate the heart. If this is not ‘your style of music’ then by all means insert what you prefer.

Amanda Cook endured a difficult season of a broken marriage and depression in the midst of Christian ministry. She wrote about not avoiding process and seasons: I grew up in Canada where we have a very harsh winter and we spend a lot of time indoors or we learn how to bundle up and go right into the center of that cold stark season and see the beauty for what it is. Sometimes I think we’re trying to fast forward through winter seasons or fall. Sometimes I think we mistake fall for some kind of front to the idea that we need to be producing fruit all the time. That’s not true. Nature knows us better than we do because they give into the seasons wholeheartedly. You don’t see a tree resisting the fall. They don’t resist death, they embrace it and they surrender to it. Then on the other side of that is resurrection, called spring.

The song “Miracles” was written after Chris Quilala and his wife lost their baby son in 2014. He wrote:

‘Miracles’ is a song about choosing to believe the truth, that God is who He says He is. In December of 2014 my wife and I lost our baby boy, Jethro Dylan Quilala. As my wife labored in the hospital room we were praying and believing for God to do a miracle. Scripture is full of stories telling of the miracles God has done. Matthew 11:4,5 NIV “Jesus replied, “Go back and report to John what you hear and see: The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is proclaimed to the poor.” We did not see our son Jethro come back to life.

As we held him in our arms and prayed we had a choice: to believe God is good all the time and no matter the outcome He is and will always be the God of miracles. Psalm 77:11-14 NIV “ I will remember the deeds of the Lord; yes, I will remember your miracles of long ago. I will consider all your works and meditate on all your mighty deeds. Your ways, God, are holy. What god is as great as our God? You are the God who performs miracles; you display your power among the peoples.” Often times as believers we allow our circumstances to change our perceptions of God. The truth is that He is the same, yesterday today and forever. The journey of faith is full of mystery. My wife and I could be stuck going around in circles asking God why we didn’t see the miracle we had hoped for. Instead of doubting God in the face of contrary circumstances we chose to move towards Him, to trust Him and to hold on to Him even more tightly.

I wrote the song ‘Miracles’ because, more than ever, I needed to remind myself constantly of who God is. The verse and chorus are simple, ”the One who does impossible, is reaching out to make me whole. The one who put death in its place, His life is flowing through my veins. I believe in You, I believe in You, You’re the God of miracles.” No matter your circumstance God does not change. Through the storm He remains the same. He is good and He is our comforter. If you need a miracle in your life don’t lose hope! Continue to believe and have faith to see impossibilities bow at His name. Our God is the God of miracles.

The song Raise a Hallelujah was written as a prayer after the writer received news that a friend’s young son was gravely ill and facing death. It was written with defiant hope and in this case the boy was healed and lived. The story is in the video below, you will see him in his father’s arms later in the video. Why doesn’t it always happen in the way of a miracle on earth? I have no idea. One day all will be revealed, of that I am sure.

The mind and heart wrestling in all three songs in the midst of the messiness and fears of life.

How about one more? Handel’s Hallelujah Chorus.

In 1741 two events coincided and miraculously changed Handel’s life. First, he got a letter from Jennens who suggested they compose an oratorio about the Divinity of Christ. He sent Handel a compilation of Old and New Testament texts – it was especially heavy in the area of Old Testament prophecy. Second, Handel received a letter from a musical admirer in Dublin who asked him to compose a work to raise money to free men out of Dublin’s debtor’s prison, and to support two hospitals. Handel accepted both challenges and set out to produce a musical work that could be performed to raise money for charities. 

For 24 days he buried himself in the Scriptures, prayed and composed. The exercise would be a spiritual epiphany for him. One day a friend who brought him his meals walked in on Handel and found him physically and emotionally exhausted. He had just completed the “Hallelujah Chorus.” The teary composer told him he had had a vision: “I did think I did see all Heaven before me, and the great God Himself!” Like the Psalmist, like Isaiah, Ezekiel, Daniel and St John, Handel had had a vision of the throne room of God!  And so he drenched the Chorus with praise.

Here’s one version. Notice how the audience always stands. The heart and mind can’t help themselves. Enjoy! 🙂

John Cox

Christian Author

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