“I give you a new commandment, love one another.” (John 13: 34-35)
The sudden passing this week of rock icon Prince, and that of David Bowie, several weeks ago tell us of their vast global following and fame they have received as musicians and artists. Maybe they are examples of modern celebrity, but it may also be that music touches the soul.
Someone once wrote a line that has resonance for me, namely “The best proof for the existence of God is music.” One of the many music critics and a fan of Prince made the point that his early hit song “Purple Rain” was about finding forgiveness; the rain is a symbol for cleansing that comes from baptismal waters. Van Jones, a CNN commentator and a close friend of Prince, related the fact the he was a committed Christian as a Jehovah’s Witness and anonymously funded social justice causes.
Maybe you don’t hear a divine sound in Prince or David Bowie, but one of my Sunday rituals is to listen to an early Sunday morning program on KDFC, “The Sacred Concert.” This music, selected mostly from the very best of Church choral music of Bach, Beethoven and Handel, gets me into the right spirit for my effort here. This morning they played a recording of Mozart’s “Ave Verum”sung by the cathedral choir of Stockholm, Sweden.
Several years ago, there was an interesting social experiment in the Washington, D.C. Metro, which asked the question of whether commuters on their way to work would take the time in the morning rush hour to listen to a violinist positioned at the entry of the subway.The idea is that we rush by so many moments and people, that if only we stop to appreciate and “smell the roses,” perhaps this may have a profound influence on our cultural, and in my opinion, our spiritual lives.
Now this was no ordinary violinist, but Joshua Bell, the world-renowned musician dressed in civilian clothes, and not in his formal black tuxedo of the concert stage. Here he performed incognito for one-hour before a rush hour with more than a thousand passers by, which were being videotaped and would later be interviewed by Washington Post reporters.
The end result was that only seven of the commuters stopped to listen, and I should add that the showstopper tune was Joshua Bell’s playing Shubert’s “Ave Maria.” His take that morning for one hour of work was $32 dollars and change; in contrast to his concert tickets that go for $150 dollars for the top seat.
Only one commuter actually recognized him; and another who dropped $5 dollars into the kitty – was certain the violinist had to be a professional, and later told a reporter: “Most people play music, they don’t feel it. Well, this man was feeling it. The man was moving, and moving into the sound.”
Now this carefully arranged experiment has been written about and tells readers and social science researchers that we need a “frame of reference” to fully recognize the professional from the amateur, a way of seeing with “enlightened eyes” or, in this case, “clear sound” with a cultivated appreciation for classical music.
So what might this have to do with our gospel today?
Jesus tells us: “I give you a new commandment, love one another, as I have loved you.” And, “This is how all will know you are my disciples, your love for one another.” These statements are taken from John’s gospel, and are spoken at the Last Supper as part of Jesus’s “farewell discources.”
We need a way of seeing (and hearing) the risen Christ, our faith, hope and most especially our lives will be the “frame” or picture in which people see Christ.
Without both our communal behavior in love toward one another, as well as our witness and outreach to those in need, people searching for the Christ may never see or hear him.
By living this blessed life, as Jesus envisioned it, people will stop in their tracks to listen and to take notice of the person of Jesus whose sweet music and countenance is the human face of God among us.
Here, the best proof for the existence of God is music to my ears.