UNIVERSAL SACRED MUSIC AND THE EXPRESSION OF THE DIVINE
Friday, October 30, 2015
Sacred music traditions throughout the world all have one thing in common: the intention of every piece, every song, is to convey the divine in sound, usually – but not necessarily – with words. Many people have, at one time or another, heard a piece during a service or a concert that touched their hearts with something far greater than the melodies and words themselves – one can feel a power far greater than the composer or musicians coming through the music, bringing one to a state of peace or inspiration rarely experienced in everyday life. Whether or not that piece came from a particular faith tradition or not, one can feel a transcendent quality in the music that seems to reach far into the heavens.
Does it matter whether sacred music comes from established traditions, or is there another dimension? If the purpose of a particular choral piece, for example, is not only to convey divinity through music but to support the doctrines of a given faith, will that piece communicate more to adherents of that faith or will it transcend all faiths through its vibrations despite the doctrinal specificity of the words? I think the latter is true. The B Minor Mass of Johann Sebastian Bach, for example, has been performed countless times, and although not everyone will agree with its Christian doctrine, the power of the music itself still touches hearts and souls around the world. But is this sacred music at its most universal?
The answer to the this question lies in the degree to which sacred or liturgical texts convey the unconditional love of God and the universality of God’s energy in all life. There is no existing religion in which one can find an expression of these qualities without it being in some way limited or colored by individual doctrines. One cannot, in the same breath, talk about God’s unconditional love and the belief that sinners who do not repent within one lifetime are sent to eternal perdition. In the Bible and elsewhere there are descriptions of God as a god of wrath and vengeance – completely contrary to the true nature of God, which is one of infinite love, compassion and peace. If the texts a composer sets to music include such contraditctions, the music itself will never be able to carry the purity of vibration and power of meaning that it could. But if a composer chooses to set texts that express the universal truths – which are, at root, common to all faiths – then the combination of words and music will be all the more powerful. For example, the music commissioned by the Society for Universal Sacred Music, which I founded in 2000, is meant to convey messages about the unconditional love of God for all human beings, our universal kinship as children of God, the value of universal peace, reverence for divinity itself, the spiritual energy in nature, and so forth.
Much spiritual education is yet needed to help more composers think beyond the faiths they inherited into the new paradigm of universal spirituality. Think about this: If we have one sun that warms the Earth and one moon upon which the sun’s light is reflected, does the sun choose one nation over another upon which to shine its rays? Do lovers in China kiss under a different moon than lovers in Brazil? Likewise, does God give more love to people of one culture than to those of another? Truly, the Light is universal and the core of the innermost being of every spirit!
Universal sacred music is essential for the faith of the future, which – I believe – will encompass the unconditional nature of God’s love, universal brotherhood/sisterhood, the fundamental sacredness of life itself, and unity of spirit throughout the world and beyond. It moves beyond interfaith – beyond the acceptance and understanding of each other’s inherited religions, toward the interspiritual unity that comes from building faith from the truths we all have in common up to the universal consciousness of God’s unconditional and eternal love for us all.
Rev. Roger Davidson