Creative Lectio: Words about music

As a musician, my lectio frequently takes a musical form. I believe that even humming is an unconscious form of lectio: I have learned to attempt to notice what I’m humming (if it is a recognizable tune). Frequently my hummings are hymn-tunes and occasionally I am unable to recall the words. So, I look them up. Now and then, I can’t even remember a title, so the looking up takes some doing. Without fail, when I do find the words, they speak directly to some situation in my life. Sometimes, even an old rock and roll song or recent pop hit will inform my unconscious humming lectio. Try it sometime for a day. Even if it doesn’t prompt or inform prayer, it’s fun.

In a more formal way, I find doing a sort of mental or written play-by-play on a text can imprint it on my mind and heart more securely and set my mind to dancing with it for an entire day or more (alongside whatever else my mind is busy with.) Sacred chant is a special interest of mine, both from a spiritual and a musical point of view, so I regularly pray chant. If the words are Latin, it gives me the added advantage of ruminating on the interplay between the original words and the English words within the musical line. In what most of us know as “Gregorian” chant, which dominates my own experience, the melody is shaped by the spoken Latin text, so the words, the translation of those words, and the music are inseparable. No matter which stream my mind chooses to wander, consciously or unconsciously, I meet God. As I understand lectio, that is precisely what Benedict, and God, intend.

One need not be a scholar, or even a singer, to do this. Certainly chant is not the only possible repertoire–it’s just the repertoire I have found most rich. You might find that country and western songs or reggae tunes set your lectio juices to churning. Sacred texts (and tunes), I think, work better than secular ones, but I am neither privy to your prayers or preferences or the definer of what is and is not sacred. So give it a try.

Maybe a certain passage of scripture brings to mind a song, even from your childhood. Let the sacred text and the song form a relationship inside you and see where that relationship goes. It may take days or weeks. It may not ever end. It may wake you up in the middle of the night with a sudden discovery. It may affect a relationship or situation in your day. It may not do anything at all (though, in my experience, it ALWAYS does something and that something is usually an adventure.)

Or turn the process around the other way: speak a passage of scripture or a poem aloud. Listen to the natural accents and undulations of the words. If you’re confident (and alone) let the rise and fall of the language lead you into a tune. there’s no need to be concerned about whether it’s “good” or not. the important thing is that it is yours and that it opens a portal into the life that God is so eager to share with all of us.

More of a mind to listen? Why not offer a little more energy to the soundtrack of your day? What is that song on the radio really about? What is beneath the surface? Does it probe? Does it reassure? Do the music and the words tell the same truth? How does it make you feel? Is it worth listening to? Does it provoke the lectio process? What about the commercial on television? Does it tell the truth or is it a lie. Does it seek to manipulate you? Or to build you up? As a symbol of the culture how does it invite you to pray for the world?

The news? Can you use the exploration of events as a catalyst to pray for those placed in need or crisis by those events? Where is Christ here? Is there anything here for which to give thanks? How truthful is the reporting? Does there seem to be more opinion than fact? Again, how does it speak to you as a cultural symbol. How does it call us to be Christ in the world? What passages of scripture does a segment call to mind. Can you bring the two together in prayer?

I would enjoy hearing about your experience if you can take the time to post a comment.

Happy humming.

3 thoughts on “Creative Lectio: Words about music

  1. Thanks for your rich thoughts here! I’m not as consciously and regularly attentive to the musical dimensions of lectio as you, in part because the music of words themselves (as in spoken poetry) draws my attention more often.

    I do recall at the age of six first encountering the hymn “This Is My Father’s World, and to my listening ears, All nature sings, and round my rings the music of the spheres.” No one would sing the song for me, so I only read it (though now I cannot read it without hearing the music.) When I saw that last phrase–the music of the spheres–I had no idea what it meant, but the whole world changed appearance, there was a radiant light behind everything, and I couldn’t distinguish things very clearly. I also felt incredibly joyful. It would be many years before I knew consciously what the music of the spheres meant–the sound of the planetary spheres rubbing against one another in the old Copernican view of the cosmos–but something in me knew anywa that this phrase was about the joy at the heart of things.

    I guess that was more about the sacramental power of language itself than about music–though it was in part the word “music” that helped me see that the universe is far more multi-dimensional than I had been aware.


  2. Ric,
    I’m so happy you wrote a post about music and creative lectio! It makes your mind race with all the wonderful melodies we have to pray with.

    I know that one of the first melodies I had for praying was the Old One Hundred (ps 100 – Praise God from whom all blessings flow….)that my grandparents sang before every meal. Also, I have always had to sing or hum some of my favorite Marian songs when I have been putting my babies/grandbabies to sleep. What a treasure we have in being able to remember and color sacred words with melody and flowing rhythm.

    Thanks for giving us many questions to ponder.


  3. Gee, Ric, as I dance through the blog here, your posts are the ones that keep partnering up with my soul tonight. (: I, too, am very moved by music and I’d say I had a natural tendency toward lectio as you describe it before I even formally was introduced to it by my sweet Sister friends at St. Mary’s. Often, too, it seems that Spirit speaks to me using my own voice as I’m frequently overcome with word and tune. Here are just the lyrics to one such song… to which you may imagine your own tune. The songs come so effortlessly and without warning that I often long contemplate if perhaps I might not be remembering something from long ago. I used to wonder why God gifted me with song and no manner in which to record it (totally unskilled in that area), but it finally dawned on me that God’s priority was to get ME to listen. Lol. A recent movement toward “mindfulness” has emerged that to me is the essence of the practice of lectio. The related goal of listening to “Wise Mind” is then no different than listening for the voice of God. The following post is about a particular practice I use that builds on what lectio cultivates… I hope you’ll share other ways by which you nurture your intimacy with God an your ability to abide in God’s will.


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