If you look back on your life, what would your soundtrack look and sound like? Have there been popular songs that resonated with where you were at key moments of your life? And looking ahead, which songs speak your heart’s desire?
One of the defining characteristics of Ignatian spirituality is “Finding God in All Things.” And I do mean ALL. Jesuit Pierre Tielhard de Chardin suggests that “… by virtue of Creation, and still more the Incarnation, nothing here is profane for those who know how to see.” Saint Ignatius of Loyola (23 Ocober1491 – 31 July 1556) believes that God reaches out to us through our emotions, and getting in touch with our feelings is key to situating God in a song.
Long before compact discs and digital music, music was produced from vinyl records covered in grooves. A stylus moving through the grooves captures the encoded frequencies, sending currents to produce stereo sounds. The grooves are cut to produce the required sounds.
We are each a song composed by God, waiting to be played in its original form. Our desires and identity are cut into the grooves of our being. Our spiritual life entails discerning what these grooves are saying to us so that we might be in tune with God’s desires for us.
The grooves are analogous to the liminal spaces of our lives – places of transition, waiting and not knowing, as we are transformed. These threshold spaces usher in a new chapter of life on our way to becoming the Song we were meant to be. Many songs are about liminal spaces anyway – heartbreak, longing, expectations, uncertainty, and so on. That is why they evoke deep and raw emotions in us, expressing what we truly feel better than we are able to. Sitting with these emotions as they emerge can be an invitation to hearing what God is trying to say to us.
Popular music appeals to generations of people, especially the young, and is one of the most accessible forms of art and expression.
God speaks to us in many and all ways, and the music and lyrics of popular music provide opportunities for enriching encounters with our God who finds us even as we find our God, in all things.
Ignatian spirituality is an affective spirituality that invites us to look at our feelings – because the heart has its reasons and it never lies. At heart, Ignatian prayer invites you to examine where these feelings orientate you. You are in consolation if they draw you towards God, and in desolation if they pull you away from God.
As such, the Ignatian method of praying with popular music is not a superficial exercise in figuring out what the writer is saying, and relating the words directly to your life. Neither is it about trying to ascribe the lyrics to you and to God as if the song is a literal conversation between the two of you. Praying with popular music digs deeper to determine the origin of the feelings that are evoked when you hear the song in order to get to the core of your being. Many listeners react negatively to a happy song, or joyfully to a dark piece of music – prayer involves discerning what these responses are saying to you.
And all my plans
Keep falling through
And all my plans they
Depend on you
To help them grow
I love you
And that’s all I know
– Five for Fighting, All I Know
Our lives may fluctuate, but we carry with us certain constants, spiritual bearings that keep us firmly and safely moored.
Five for Fighting’s All I Know, a simple but evocative tune from the movie Chicken Little, is one song that keeps me centred. As a musician, I believe it contains one of the most beautiful chord progressions in its introduction. The lyrics themselves capture a simple truth for me as a Christian – my dependence on God in all circumstances of my life, and the truth that I love him, even if my struggles in life cause me to feel otherwise.
It’s a simple song of a relationship rooted in love.
The music we hear resonates with the music within us. Getting in touch with this resonance awakens us to the God who dwells in us. We only need to listen very carefully, with our ears and especially with our hearts.
No matter where the currents of life may take me, from the deepest doubts to the highest highs, I love God.
And that’s all I know.
That always keeps me going.
Anthony Siow is a spiritual director trained in the Ignatian tradition. Like Peter, Anthony left behind a successful advertising career to follow God’s call to cast the net elsewhere. Making use of his skills and creativity in advertising, Anthony incorporates the arts and popular culture into his work as spiritual and retreat director. Anthony conducts retreats regularly for BGST and serves as a mentor for the school. He also leads silent retreats to Thailand and Australia.
Anthony first presented GROOVED: FINDING GOD IN POPULAR MUSIC in 2014. This program enjoyed several runs, and was well-received among those who enjoy popular music but especially for those who journey with the young. He will be presenting this one-day workshop and retreat for BGST on 30 November.