Music, Mysticism, and Our Time of Coronavirus

Two mailings came my way recently that awakened (or reawakened?) the valuable role of music in a time of self-isolating.  One of these is this wonderful piece put together by individual musicians working from their homes—quite a painstaking effort to create such an ensemble indeed!  Worth your times to tune in and take it in and to praise the singers and instrumentalists for creating so wonderful and uplifting a gift for our difficult times. 

“Make Our Garden Grow” Lyrics by Richard Wilbur Music by Leonard Bernstein. Produced by Heartbeat Opera.

A second gift from the music world is a sad one that commemorates a victim of the coronavirus, music legend Ellis Marsalis Jr who died at 85 years of age but not before blessing generations of soul-seekers through his musical genius as jazz pianist and professor but also by parenting, along with his wife Delores who died in 2017, four sons who carry on his musical legacy in their own right: Branford, Wynton, Delferya, Jason (a fifth son, Mboya, is autistic and lived at home with his parents).  Go here to learn what one of his fellow New Orleans citizens wrote about his life and his sad parting.  National Catholic Reporter article on Ellis.

Ellis Marsalis Jr. performing in the Ellis Marsalis Trio at Dixon Hall, Tulane University School of Arts, New Orleans, Oct. 21, 2010 (Wikimedia Commons/Tulane Public Relations). Photo taken from article by National Catholic Reporter.

Not for him, given the coronavirus, parades in the streets.  But instead Memories and Gratitude from around the world.

Other musical news includes how many people are taking up musical instruments in this time of stay-at-home.   A wonderful use of one’s ‘spare’ time!  And, if you are busy instructing your kids, don’t forget musical instruction.

A time of shock and loss and trauma is very often a time for music—and poetry and dance and clay and painting and gardening and all the others forms of art as meditation.  With these practices we can pour our grief and sadness, anger and loss, that not only relieve our own souls but reach out to others’ hearts and souls as well.  Music and the other arts bear witness to how we are not alone.

Speak up. Speak out. Speak truth. Photo by israel palacio on Unsplash.

Music allows us a powerful outlet for our feelings that reach deeper than words.  Schopenhauer observed 150 years ago that “only music reveals the irrational to modern man.”  Psychologist William James tells that music “is the element through which we are best spoke to by mystical truth….There is a verge of the mind which these things haunt….It alone has the keeping of the password primeval.”   

Put this insight side by side with Otto Rank’s teaching that the “unio mystica” is accessed through “love and art” and we understand why a time of plague is also a time of deepening mysticism.  And music.  In a study on Beethoven’s spirituality, J. W. N. Sullivan concludes that “all art exists to communicate states of consciousness which are higher synthetic wholes than those of ordinary experience.” 

Music and the other arts are a natural language for expressing what happens deepest within us.  Therefore, for mysticism.

Adapted from Matthew Fox, Prayer: A Radical Response to Life (original title, On Becoming a Musical, Mystical Bear: Spirituality American Style), pp. 141-145.

Banner Image: Woman conductor leading a neon band. Photo by Spencer Imbrock on Unsplash.

Queries for Contemplation

What did you learn, what did your heart learn, by going to the two suggested links in this meditation?

What music is drawing you in this time of self-isolation and the coronavirus plague?

Recommended Reading

Prayer: A Radical Response to Life
How do prayer and mysticism relate to the struggle for social and ecological justice? Fox defines prayer as a radical response to life that includes our “Yes” to life (mysticism) and our “No” to forces that combat life (prophecy). How do we define adult prayer? And how—if at all—do prayer and mysticism relate to the struggle for social and ecological justice? One of Matthew Fox’s earliest books, originally published under the title On Becoming a Musical, Mystical Bear: Spirituality American StylePrayer introduces a mystical/prophetic spirituality and a mature conception of how to pray. Called a “classic” when it first appeared, it lays out the difference between the creation spirituality tradition and the fall/redemption tradition that has so dominated Western theology since Augustine. A practical and theoretical book, it lays the groundwork for Fox’s later works.
“One of the finest books I have read on contemporary spirituality.” – Rabbi Sholom A. Singer

Conversations On Aquinas: Adam Bucko

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8 thoughts on “Music, Mysticism, and Our Time of Coronavirus”

  1. Avatar

    What an incredible performance by these music makers and other artists dancing in nature! Thank you so much for making it possible for us to so easily tune in to it!

    Music has been a vibrant and healing part of my life since childhood, when I first learned to play the piano at eight years old. I did not like to perform in public (recitals were a pain!) but, playing, for me, was a way of dealing with deep feelings that I could not express otherwise. It was a healing and enlightening way to let everything out.
    Just this morning I started singing ‘Alleluia’ songs upon getting up. Other spirituals also came up which gave me such a boost that I resolved to start my mornings with song every morning from now on. Interesting that I opened up your meditation this morning and you gave this lovely talk about the importance of music in our lives and shared such exquisite music! We certainly are all really so very connected, aren’t we?

    1. Gail Sofia Ransom

      Thank you, Vivian for sharing your experiences and love of music. It is truly an art form that Allows us to commune with the essence of the universe. Step into a musical experience and you’ve entered the divine harmonies that Pythagoras described. But we don’t have to know that. We only have to recognize how right it feels and how we feel connected to the divine.
      Gail Sofia Ransom
      For the Daily Meditation Team

  2. Avatar

    Love this and feel it in my soul! I’ve been channeling my creative energy into an album of Creative Spirituality instrumental music during the lockdown. There are six of the eventual ten songs available now if I may share it here: https://soundcloud.com/btladd/sets/via-transformativa

    Album description: The theme of this instrumental album of improvised sound compositions represents some of my reflections on the transformative journey of the microcosm/macrocosm of the human spirit as reflected in the universe and the universe as reflected in the human spirit. The unfolding story of the universe is also the unfolding journey of the human being. We are wonderfully made from the dust of stars and 14 billion years of planetary wisdom pulled through the knothole of time to be here now. We have an eternal oneness-song, the ‘uni-verse’, playing in our DNA. It is up to us to learn our own unique ways of dancing with it. Each human being is birthed into a personal journey of lived experience, ideally accruing wisdom, and ultimately living by and through compassion – that which transforms us. We learn to receive love and to give love, and on our best days, we enter into the awe and wonder of fully receiving the creation and living as a co-creator with the Divine energy of the universe.

    1. Gail Sofia Ransom

      Dear Brent ThomasI listened to some of your tracts, and they are truly beautiful. I do hear the echoes of Creation Spirituality in your music and in your description. I hope you find a way to share it with the wider Creation Spirituality Community. Try sending an inquiry to: contact@cscommunities.org. Or submit something for their bi-monthly newsletter using the same address.
      Gail Sofia Ransom
      For the

  3. Gail Sofia Ransom

    Dear Laura,
    Thank you for sharing your music with us. And thank you for sharing your story of sending a lullabye to a friend who was alone in the maternity ward. Important times like this call forth song.
    Gail Sofia Ransom
    For the Daily Meditation Team

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