By Ramona Siddoway
Ramona Siddoway is a freelance writer and member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (also known as the Mormons) where she volunteers in the Public Affairs department. The views expressed in this post are her own and do not necessarily reflect those of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints or Interfaith Houston.
“Music washes away from the soul the dust of everyday life,” said German novelist Berthold Auerbach (1812-1882). In the early years of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Emma Smith, the wife of Joseph Smith, was asked to compile a book of hymns for the new church. What I love about this story is that while some new hymns were written more than half were selected from hymns already being used by other churches. I love the fact that, for at least some other Christian churches, we are still singing many of the very same hymns. While some of our doctrine may differ we share a deep connection with the music of faith and I feel a deeper sense of connection with other religions.
Music has an intense way of reaching the depth of a person’s soul; when people gather together, like in a congregation, music has the power to collectively unite everyone. John Denver once said, “Music does bring people together. It allows us to experience the same emotions. People everywhere are the same in heart and spirit. No matter what language we speak, what color we are, the form of our politics or the expression of our love and our faith, music proves: we are the same.”
In our religion we believe that singing—especially singing the hymns—is another form of worship. I suspect that most religions share this same view. Some of the most heavenly music comes from varied spiritual venues, preaching of the divine as well as touching the divine within us. Music has a way of communicating and transcending the barriers of language, culture, race, religion, and age. Who doesn’t feel something stir within them while listening to songs of praise beneath a cathedral ceiling or hearing a call to prayer? Doctrines and beliefs differ, but music has the potential to stir something deep and sacred within all. We can ignore the interpretation of the words and listen to the interpretations of the spirit.
Many religions have an area in their places of worship that are similar to (or even called) a sanctuary. These are places that worshipers are encouraged to go for contemplation and prayer. It is usually an area of simple beauty and, often, solitary respite. But with religious music, an entire congregation can rest in solemn sanctuary together, feeling that solitary respite while still sharing an experience together.
I love religious and spiritual music from places and people all around the world. Like the gathered hymns from the early days of our church, I feel a sense of connection and kinship to these groups, from the people who compose, to those who perform, to the individuals who assemble to participate in the ceremonies where the music is present. I recently attended a funeral service at a local Catholic parish. I was touched by the way the parishioners and church leaders wove music into the ceremony. It was like ribbons of faith, hope, love, grief, and light all intertwined solely to bring comfort to the family and respect to the finality of one man’s existence here on earth.
I love music. It is an integral part of my life, inspiring me in contemplation, in my writing, and especially in my worship. Not all music is created or used equally, but is it too crazy to believe that when we are sharing in song our hearts can be softened and we can view one another on more equal ground, at least for just that brief moment? Maybe its not quite world peace, but it can be a step towards a more harmonious future.