Lewis, Tolkien, and the Creative Power of Music

Music is powerful. Something inherently in music provides peace and joy amidst stress and turmoil. At least that is the experience I have when listening to music. There exists a certain universal quality to music that draws all mankind together. Below I will provide examples from literature and the tradition of Catholic Church to show evidence of music’s capacity to unite people through its creative power.

Aslan’s Aria

Similar to the creation story in the Book of Genesis, the creation of Narnia takes place through the creative voice of Aslan [God]. Here is a brief excerpt from The Magician’s Nephew which gives the reader a glimpse into the inception of Narnia,

Aslan Sings to Create Narnia

A voice had begun to sing. It was very far away and Digory found it hard to decide from what direction it was coming. Sometimes it seemed to come from all directions at once. Sometimes he almost thought it was coming out of the earth beneath them. Its lower notes were deep enough to be the voice of the earth herself. There were no words. It was hardly a tune. But it was beyond comparison, the most beautiful sound he had ever heard.

Words, especially clothed in music, possess a dynamic quality in C.S. Lewis’ Chronicles of Narnia. Reading Aslan’s Aria moved me. I felt closeness to Lewis’ literary universe and a pull to experience the transcendence of God through music.

Evidence from The Silmarillion

According to Peter Kreeft, in The Philosophy of Tolkien: The Worldview Behind The Lord of the Rings, “The most powerful and magical of language is music. The reason for this is that music is the original language. Music is the language of creation” (p. 161). Similar to the creation of Narnia through Aslan’s song in The Magician’s Nephew, C.S. Lewis’ contemporary and friend J.R.R. Tolkien recognizes the creative and unifying power music holds in the creation of Middle Earth. In his great work The Silmarillion, Tolkien details the creation of the universe—and Middle earth—through the creative power of music. Tolkien writes,

Ilúvatar [God] said to them, ‘Behold your Music!’ And he showed them a vision, giving to them sight where before was only hearing; and they saw a new World made visible before them, and it was globed amid the Void, it was sustained therein, but was not of it. And as they looked and wondered this World began to unfold its history, and it seemed to them that it lived and grew. And when the Ainur [angels] had gazed for a while and were silent Ilúvatar said again, ‘Behold your Music!’ (p. 6).

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I will refer back to Kreeft since he has a penchant for simplifying profound truths in easy, memorable, and digestible quotes. The Boston College professor states, “Poetry is fallen music, and prose is fallen poetry…In the beginning was music” (Philosophy of Tolkien p. 162). This makes sense to me. Something innate within music truly moves the hardest of hearts and melts differences among enemies away. Poetry and prose have residue of music within them, but still fall short of the full reality that is communicated through the medium of music!

Musicam Sacram

Promulgated on March 5th, 1967 Musicam Sacram [Instruction on Music in the Liturgy] speaks of the importance and weight sacred music has and gives to the Mass. According to this Vatican II document, “The true purpose of sacred music [is], ‘which is the glory of God and the sanctification of the faithful’” (no. 4). Moreover, Musicam Sacram mentions that the celebration of the holy Mass is provided a more noble form when song is a frequent part of the liturgy (no. 5). From my own personal experience, I concur with the assertion of the conciliar document that music enhances liturgical worship. Peace is a common fruit of singing at Mass. My oldest son is starting to learn the words to the songs and I have noticed that when he sings throughout the Mass he is calmer. There is certainly a truth to the old adage: “Singing is praying twice!”

The Silmarillion and The Chronicles of Narnia are still relevant works of literature decades after they were initially published. Part of the mysterious appeal and timeless nature of Lewis’ and Tolkien’s works is their tapping into the creative power of music. Both men discovered the mysterious influence music has over mankind. Weaving melodious themes into the creation stories of their literary universes naturally draws people to wonder. Almost everyone I knew likes music of some sort and that is not a coincidence. God uses music to unite our sinful world. The height of the creative power is found during a Catholic Mass! I strongly encourage the next time you go to Mass whether you are Catholic or not to sing along with the music and take note of how your heart is moved.

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5 Matt Maher Songs that Help Develop Trust in God

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The great American poet  Henry Wadsworth Longfellow declared, “Music is the universal language of mankind.” Echoing this truth, U2 lead singer Bono said it this way, “Music can change the world because it can change people.” Over the course of my life, music played a pivotal role—throughout high school I participated in show choir, played in jazz band, and tried out for All-State Choir as well. In college, I even received a music scholarship and completed voice lessons during my four-year tenure. My favorite singer is Matt Maher. His positive and uplifting music soothes my soul.

Through periods of desolation and despair, Maher’s music sustained my trust in Divine Providence even when I did not feel God’s presence. Below are five songs I highly recommend you listen to for inspiration and a positive sustaining message of the Good News when tough times hit.

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  1. Firelight:  From the album Saints and Sinnners (2015) Maher’s Firelight provides a positive and upbeat message. Looking for a new song to incorporate into my weekly playlist the title intrigued me. Immediately, listening to this song I knew that this was a staple song for me to lean during periods of doubts. Below is a short excerpt of the lyrics along with a link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kq3-OyRh3Zw

Dear Jesus where are you tonight
I bear a sadness deep inside
I’m aching for a faith in things I strain to feel
I need to know that you are real

2. Because He Lives: Coming from the same album as Firelight, Matt Maher’s Because He Lives offers a beautifully simple and consistent message of obedience to God. The word Amen occurs 19 times in this song. Translated into English as “so be it” amen conveys certitude and truth. In fact, amen is derived from the Hebrew āmēn, which means “certainty,” “truth,” and “verily.”  I highly suggest listening to this song as a way to provide a stable mantra of trusting in God.

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3. All the People Say Amen: Along with Because He Lives, the Catholic songwriter’s All the People Say Amen contains a strong theme about confidence in the Lord. This is the song that I probably listened to the most times over the course of my life. Often substituting the word babies for people I jovially danced with my children [and still do currently]. Much laughter and smiling ensue when this song plays in our household–plus the opening words remind us of the promise of Matthew 28:20.

You are not alone if you are lonely
When you feel afraid, you’re not the only
We are all the same in need of mercy
To be forgiven and be free
It’s all you got to lean on
But thank God it’s all you need

4. Hold Us Together: Published from the Alive Again (2009) album, this song always seemed fitting to listen to during stressful periods where I felt rushed and impatient. Right away the tempo calms your nerves and the refrain provides a much needed reminder during the onslaught of today’s go, go, go culture:

And love will hold us together
Make us a shelter to weather the storm
And I’ll be my brother’s keeper
So the whole world would know that we’re not alone

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5. Deliverer: I saved me favorite and from my experience the most powerful Matt Maher song for last. Deliverer came from the epic album Saints and Sinners (2015). Reeling from the losing our unborn child to a miscarriage I sunk into a deep despair. Feeling completely numb and detached from reality and on the brink of near apostasy to my Catholic faith, I hurried searched for YouTube for positive songs to ease my suffering as I wrote my lesson plans for the following week of high school classes that I taught. After listening to my standard playlist [this included the four previously mentioned Maher titles], I still suffered desolation.

Miraculously, his song Deliverer pulled up, randomly–or perhaps not so coincidentally, after one of his other songs. Something about the combination of the opening lyrics, beat, tone, and inflection of Maher’s voice infused hope into my heart, mind, and soul.  I hit the replay button immediately once Deliverer ended. I went on to listen no less than a 12 times that winter night. Here is a link to this incredibly powerful song: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2pb_DT0MhY0&list=RD2pb_DT0MhY0

For any of my readers that never heard of Matt Maher I strongly encourage you to listen to his music. He is a true disciple of Jesus Christ and the love of his fellow man shines through when you listen to his songs. I am thankful and praise God for the gift of music and the ability to listen to Matt Maher on a daily basis. I hope you find his music positive and uplifting as well!

I was a drifter, I had nowhere to go
I was hanging by threads of dust and bone
Every angel I knew was singing son come home
But the melody was hard to sing along

Oh God, You’re my deliverer
The One, the One who carries us
Oh God, You’re my deliverer

I was on trial for everything I did
And there’s no way I could make a stand and win
When you realize the verdict is already in
You let go of the brokenness within
Well there’s only One who can ever stand and win

Oh God, You’re my deliverer
The One, the One who carries us
Oh God, You’re my deliverer
The One, the One who carries us

And now I’m like a child at night
Who never has to think of why
We’re free to love and live and die
And there’s no need to justify
The sinner that’s inside of me
Has lost all his control of me

My God, from the flood and from the fire
You brought me out, I am alive
With a faith, just like a child
I’m not afraid, I’m running wild
For everything that will be done
I am yours and you are my
Deliverer

The One, the One who carries us
God, You’re my deliverer
The One, the One who carries us
Oh God, You’re my deliverer
The One, the One who carries us
Oh God, You’re my deliverer
The One, the One who carries us
God, You’re my deliverer

I was hanging by threads of dust and bone

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Daily Donnybrook- The Day I Finally KO’d My Former Self

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Depression and anxiety are invisible disorders that fail to show physical signs to the untrained eye. I may seem like a normal young adult in American. I may appear to have my life together: I am married, have three adorable children, own a house, and have a job with benefits. Outwardly, I seem to be fine and dandy all the time.

In reality, I have been fighting a battle my entire life. My foe knows me at the most intimate level—knows my deepest fear, greatest strengths, and what makes me tick. The greatest challenger I ever faced in life is me! This summer I embarked on a journey to acquire tools, strategies, and weapons to combat “my former self”. Earlier this week, I finally broke through the darkness of negativity, anxiety, and depression. I metaphorically knocked out my opponent in a cage match of cranial proportions! Let me share with you how I achieved that.

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1. Professional Help: Recently, I started seeing a professional counsel to help me manage my anxiety and to provide tips to overcome stressful situations. Frankly, my pride staved off appointments as long as possible. I have maintained consistency with scheduling and keeping monthly appointment for a few months now. I can definitely tell the tide is shifting toward favoring “my new self”. I faced a situation at work this week that normally would stress me out. I would tend to obsess over things outside of my control. I faced a situation where I finally consciously  worked to deescalate and did it in an effective, calm, and timely fashion without having any feeling of guilt or anxiety! Professional help from both my counselor and medical doctor– who prescribed me an anxiety medicine that works for me—provided me strength to succeed against my past self.

I used to think that asking for help showed weakness—and that it was a bad thing. My new way of thinking is asking for help still shows weakness—but weakness and vulnerability is not necessarily negative. It is healthy to rely on others.

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2. Unexpected Friendships: Fellowship is strength. According to St. Thomas Aquinas, “There is nothing on this earth more to be prized than true friendship.” I do not believe it is a coincidence that I was sent two blessings of possible friendships within the past week at work.

A team member at my site stopped my desk and started up a jovial conservation about Green Bay Packer football and the joys [and anguishes] of playing the classic Nintendo 64 game NFL Blitz 2001. No prompting on my end, this meeting was seemingly random, but it was good—we talked for over 20 minutes!

The second example of an unexpected friendship arrived from a different route. I received an unexpected compliment [ please see my post How an Unexpected Compliment Revitalized My Week for more information] from a co-worker at a different work site. This week we have interacted through email and worked on a couple escalated accounts. During the stress of the week, I have been able to look to this team member for positive feedback and support.

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3. Music: Along with professional help and burgeoning work friendships, I have made it a point to increase the amount of Christian music I listen to on the radio during my drives to and from work. A particular inspiring song started playing as I arrived into the employee parking lot this morning. Instead of quickly turning off the car and rushing to work, I stayed to finish the ending of the song. The melody and words calmed my nervous nature down. I am able to reflect on some of the song lyrics throughout the day in my mind when I face a tough situation.

When I come home, I have been incorporating music in the early evening pre-bedtime routine. The benefits are two-fold: we limit television time for our children and music calms my youngest son down and mitigates the severity of his tantrums—they have been getting concerning lately both in frequency and length. Matt Maher, a Catholic singer and song writer, probably gives me the best songs to listen to overcome my anxiety. I strongly encourage you to play his music—I find it incredibly soothing and positive.

I am champion this week’s battle against my “former self”. Here is the thing about depression and anxiety, this battle is ongoing and constant. Tomorrow presents a new opportunity for me to KO my “former self”. Professional help, fellowship of friends, and positive music created the perfect game-plan to defeat my former way of thinking. If you are struggling with depression and anxiety, try these tactics. Sometimes it may work. For some people these strategies may not work. The key is learning to find people and tools to help you on your our “Daily Donnybrook against your former self”. I will leave you to reflect on the lyrics of an exceptionally positive song by Madisa—Overcomer:

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Staring at a stop sign Watching people drive by T mac on the radio Got so much on your mind Nothing’s really going right Looking for a ray of hope

Whatever it is you may be going through I know he’s not gonna let it get the best of you

You’re an overcomer Stay in the fight ’til the final round You’re not going under ‘Cause God is holding you right now You might be down for a moment Feeling like it’s hopeless That’s when he reminds you That you’re an overcomer You’re an overcomer

Everybody’s been down Hit the bottom, hit the ground

Ooh, You’re not alone Just take a breath, don’t forget Hang on to his promises He wants you to know

You’re an overcomer Stay in the fight ’til the final round You’re not going under ‘Cause God is holding you right now You might be down for a moment Feeling like it’s hopeless That’s when he reminds you That you’re an overcomer You’re an overcomer

The same man, the great I am The one who overcame death Is living inside of you So just hold tight, fix your eyes On the one who holds your life There’s nothing he can’t do He’s telling you

You’re an overcomer Stay in the fight ’til the final round You’re not going under ‘Cause God is holding you right now You might be down for a moment Feeling like it’s hopeless That’s when he reminds you That you’re an overcomer You’re an overcomer

You’re an overcomer You’re an overcomer

See don’t quit, don’t give in You’re an overcomer

Don’t quit, don’t give in You’re an overcomer

Don’t quit, don’t give in You’re an overcomer

You’re an overcomer

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