Well I preached my sermon on music therapy, and like many a sermon, once it's preached, the preacher was less impressed than some of the other hearers. One of the legacies of being a theological educator which includes the formation of preachers, is the difficulty in switching off the critically evaluative programme, and the "areas for further development and improvement" programmes that run in the background of the mind. So I could take the same texts now and preach them better - and maybe I will.
But that story in Acts 16.1-16 on Paul and Silas curing the local Mystic Meg at Philippi and falling foul of the local religious mafia is worth some second thoughts. So they cure the girl, then get arrested, badly beaten up and whipped; in a piece of security overkill they're locked up in the high security cell with manacles and chains and a personal jailer, and at midnight they start singing. Then there's an earthquake and the doors come off their hinges and the padlocks and chains fall off from their own weight and we think it's a miracle. Well I guess the self exploding hinges and padlocks are just that, the things that happen when God's around.
But sometimes it's the miracle we don't see that triggers the miracle we do see. "At midnight they started singing"... This isn't Johnny Depp the Pirate, high on whatever and easily outwitting some dumb Hollywood stooge. These are flesh and blood preachers who have just had the ultimate feedback and they are beaten up, locked up and washed up, pain, prison and persecution. "At midnight they started praising God and singing...", now that in itself is miracle enough. Music-making becomes an act of both defiance and trust. One of the oldest forms of revolution as music reconfigures the inner world. Not the external circumstances we see, but what we don't see; not the vision of chains, welts on the back and locked doors, but a vision of hope, freedom and new beginnings, formed and affirmed by singing about God to God, just for the heaven if it!
Here's the question? Those times when we are beat up, chained by circumstances we can't break out of, closed in by the limitations of the life that's given us, sore with pains no one else can understand, wishing for freedom from the way it is; what would happen if in the midnight of our disconsolation we sought consolation in the God whose gift is the life we are now living? And what if that consolation was sought in music, either our own or someone else's, those sounds so beautiful, or rebellious, melodies so evocative or provocative, tunes which tune and retune the heart. No wonder totalitarian regimes censor composers and performers, poets and lyricists, artists and musicians. The therapy music delivers may well be instilling the determination to be transformative, persistent and defiant of all that diminishes, constrains and hurts human life. That transformative determination is captured in one of the jolliest renditions of Puritan theology I know! go listen This is John Bunyan set to the kind of music he would have enjoyed!
"And around midnight they started singing and praising God...."