A Weblog Dedicated to the Discussion of the Christian Faith and 21st Century Life

A Weblog Dedicated to the Discussion of the Christian Faith and 21st Century Life
I do not seek to understand that I may believe, but I believe in order to understand. For this also I believe, –that unless I believed, I should not understand.-- St. Anselm of Canterbury (1033-1109)

Monday, October 18, 2010

Music, Art, and Experiencing God.

Today's post is by Dorothy Penny-Larter. Dorothy is a pastor in the East Ohio Conference of the United Methodist Church and a former student of mine at Ashland Theological Seminary.

I've often wondered what the "knowledge of God" is. What does it mean? As Christians we believe in an infinite God, but our knowledge of God is limited, confined and restricted by the limitations of our human means of expression. That's why ascribing feminine qualities and characteristics to God may not be as risible as it seems but actually serves to expand human knowledge of God and allow us access to different, new visions impressions of God, to fresh understandings of God.

One thing I love about Christianity is that grounded in Scripture it also recognizes the contribution of others as valid and important expressions of Christian belief and doctrine. Through the ages various scholars, artists, composers and writers have made manifest and helped us know God, infinite certainly, but God who is available to all humanity in all manner of revelations.

Human language, although a powerful means of communication and self-expression, is limited by our humanity. Ultimately the only one who can know God is God. But the wonderful thing is that God created humanity in God’s own image and I would argue with the ability to experience God in so many ways: through language, but also through music, art, the performing and visual arts, through science, indeed anything that is creative or inventive. Thus, God becomes more visible to us and we are able to know God more fully in and through time.

How important to our knowledge of God, therefore, is the experience and knowledge of the past. That is not to deny the work of contemporary hymn writers who are addressing ethical, social and spiritual issues facing Christians today. As Methodists, though, we trace our theology through the Wesley quadrilateral which includes the element of tradition and we remember that early Methodists were challenging serious social problems rampant in their culture. Therefore, as the Singing Denomination, we treasure our hymnody, for through it we re-connect with our beginnings, re-acquaint ourselves with our doctrine and theology, and most importantly meet God. Charles Wesley describes God as "my gracious Master", "Christ", "Saviour", and "Incarnate Deity", "Spirit of Holiness", "Eternal Triune God", "sacred energy" and "redeeming grace". How these descriptions stir our imaginations so that knowledge of God deepens. It is one of our purposes as Christians "To spread through all the earth abroad the honours of thy name". We ask for 1000 tongues each to sing the great Redeemer's praise for we would sing lustily and passionately. This way we make God known in this uniquely Wesleyan way.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Yes and amen.

The last few sentences caught in my ear.

It must be the poet in me, but I noticed how different the hymn would be if it said "O, for 1,000 tongues to sing."

I'm not sure what "a thousand" is different, but it feels radically different to me.