Wednesday, May 21, 2008

The Sacred and Anxiety

A friend of mine and I have recently discovered that we have very different experience of a particular musician and composer. I believe Hhe composes and plays mostly music for worship and liturgical settings. We did agree on one thing though that some of the music reminds us of the band Dead Can Dance. Though we concluded different things from this comparison. I felt that the pieces that were like Dead Can Dance were doing similar things musically but did so less well, namely in conveying a sense of mystery and the Sacred. My Friend said that this music was like Dead Can Dance without the anxiety. This struck me because I have never heard anxiety in the music of Dead Can Dance.

As I thought about our differing experiences of both Dead Can Dance and the musician it occurred to me that perhaps I had not heard anxiety in Dead Can Dance's music because there is a little anxiety in my own understanding of approaching the Sacred or Holy. That this absence of anxiety may be why I experience less of a sense of mystery and the sacred in this music that is like that of Dead Can Dance. This fits with two thoughts I have long run with for some time that of Rudolf Otto's the Idea of the Holy and C. S. Lewis' comment that it is possible that God's goodness is in fact terrible to us. Key for me in my sense of worship and art that is worshipful is how open it is to the mysterium tremendum, the wholly other of the divine. I might assert that worship should not be free of some type of anxiety. I suppose I don't really have trouble with phrases like the "fear of the Lord."

What is further interesting is that if one would be able to go back in time and see the worship of my childhood one wouldn't see much sense of mystery or emphasis on the wholly other and awe etc. Lutheran Pietists very much insist on emphasizing the intimate relationship with God, which I also value when balanced with this other aspect of the divine. For me Christian faith is the balance of the intimacy of relationship with that which is wholly other than ourselves. Thus even that intimate relationship should unsettle us at least a little bit. I say all this because while I know my taste is part of my response to this particular musician, I experience something else. This isn't just that it is different from how I was raised (in some sense it might actually be very close to how I was raised), but I have always found something missing in the Covenant's sense of Worship or at least its practice (its theology of worship often does attempt to express what I am trying to get at.) God always and my relationship to God always has had for me something more than intimacy and familiarity. Otto and Lewis (and others) expressed things missing in my native experience of church and worship. Thus I have been drawn to the old European Cathedrals and the worship of the Orthodox Church. So, ya I guess a little anxiety in worship would be a good thing, and thus Dead Can Dance actually comes closer to the expression of the sacred that I seek in worship than this musician that at times sounds like Dead Can Dance.

Oh and I am not mentioning who this is because I have only listened to the music once, and so my impressions are only first impressions and before really critiquing and evaluating I want to listen more carefully. But at some point I may post on that here.