Humanity Sings A New Song

Humanity Sings A New Song May 17, 2024

Gerard van Honthorst: King David Singing And Playing The Harp / Wikimedia Commons

Music plays an important role in human society. It allows us to express ourselves in ways no other medium can achieve, giving us unique ways to present our hopes, fears, joys, sorrows, to each other. Music, likewise, can stir us up and motivate us, helping us deal with the same pains and sorrows which we express through it. Certainly, good music can help bring joy to the soul, which is why even those who are suffering greatly in life often will find music lifts them up and makes them feel better, sometimes just while the music is being played, but sometimes afterwards as well. Music, therefore, can be, and often  is, a form of spiritual medicine. Those who have been stirred by it find their lives changed for the better, allowing them to once again engage the world, helping to change its fate.

Music should never be discounted or ignored. While it is clear we are not equally capable of writing music or playing musical instruments, and not all of us can sing  very well, we can still do such activities and find that doing them helps us just as much, sometimes more than, just listening to music. When we put ourselves in with the music, no matter how well we do so, we find that we have that much more tie with the music, that much more connection to the inspiration behind it, and that much more affected by it.

And just as we can use music to represent ourselves, our own personal wants and needs, our personal likes and likes, our relationships with others, including God, humanity as an integral whole is doing so as well. We can and should read history as a kind of musical drama, and if we pay careful attention, we can hear, in each movement, the particular state of humanity at that point in the music, a state which includes the quality of its relationship with God. Even if we cannot hear or understand the integral whole, we can at least experience the way that music is being experienced in parts of that whole which include us, that is, in communal worship. And when we, either as a whole, or in some sort of part of the whole, use music to engage God, we find it helps us in our relationship with God, because it keeps us ready for  God’s response to us. This is why, throughout human history, music has had a place in communal worship. But now, thanks to Christ, humanity has been called to sing a “new song,” one which indicates the changes which happened to creation thanks to the incarnation:

Let us sing to the Lord a new song, for He has done marvelous things, and will do even more wonderful things by the presence of Christ, through which all things come from annihilation to re-creation, through which the old things appear as new and take on a vigorous new life by being elevated to God. [1]

God took  in and joined together all that took place before the incarnation, especially all the pains and sorrow indicated by our musical drama, and joined in with it all, sharing with us all those pains and sorrows, bringing to them something new, something which can and should change the direction of the drama itself. God’s response to our song, therefore, is something unexpected: it was to join in with us, to join in with that song, to affirm that song and then add to it, to help direct it from within. God has taken it all in, including the hopes and dreams which were also represented by that musical drama, and transformed it from within, making the song itself “new” in the process.  This new song continues to take from all that came before it, but does so in the light of grace and the eschaton, bringing thus, a direction to the song, a conclusion which transforms the meaning of the song itself. Each person still has something to contribute to that song, something which shows how invaluable they and their lives are, but now they will be able to see how it can and will properly integrate with the greater song of humanity itself.   And, as St. Hildegard pointed out, just as we have  new song through the new Adam, we have the new Adam because of the  new Eve, Mary the Theotokos, so that the dissonance Adam and Eve established in the human song due to their sin could be and would be brought back to a new harmony through Christ and his mother, Mary:

Therefore, O Wisdom, heaven and the angels adore you, and all the heavenly hosts marvel at you, saying: Oh! Oh! All the miracles of God arose from “the slime of the earth” [Gen 2.7], so that a new sun came forth and a new light shone out, and a new song resounded among us. Wherefore, O Wisdom, praise be to you, because you found another woman, the Virgin Mary, that the serpent could not deceive, and she has crowned all the human race, so that from now on the devil will be unable to delude man as he did before. For in her pain Even was the mother of all weeping, but in Mary joy resounded with harp and harmony.[2]

We have been given a new song. We are encouraged to find out how we can best integrate ourselves with it, to find our place in the harmony which Christ and Mary have established. Let us do so, even as we take in and appreciate the contributions of others, so that we can be inspired by each other and experience all the good the new song can and will bring about.

[1] St Sophronios of Jerusalem, “Homily  4: Homily on the Presentation of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ”  in Homilies. Trans. John M. Duffy (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2020), 129.

[2] St. Hildegard of Bingen, “Letter 390” in The Letters of Hildegard of Bingen. Volume III. Trans. Joseph L Baird and Radd K Ehrman (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004), 194.


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