The following is a transcript from a Raised Catholic Podcast episode. To listen to the episode, click here.
Today is episode 79: Contemplative Summer Week One – Contemplating Music
Hi friends, as I explained in detail before a two-week break way back in episode 78, I’m taking this summer to focus on contemplation with a variety of methods, and each week this summer I’ll model a different kind of contemplative prayer for you. This week, we’re contemplating music.
As choices go, this was kind of a no-brainer for me, honestly. Music is a huge part of my life. I’m a preschool music teacher and a cantor at church. I met my husband and dear friends singing in choirs where we sang in variety of styles and languages. In my own spiritual walk, I frequently feel God speaking to me through music – and not just the lyrics but in a way that is personal and that often transcends words.
Well, this week, I contemplated God through a piece written in 1605 by English composer William Byrd called ‘Ave Verum Corpus’. Drawn on text written for the Feast of Corpus Christi in the 14th century, this is actually not the piece I intended to contemplate this week. To be honest, I’d say it probably chose me, and I hope that you will have the same openness to God’s leading in your own contemplative practice. Well anyway, I was on my way to teach music class one morning this week and went looking for Mozart’s ‘Ave Verum Corpus’ to listen to in the car – this is the one I’m familiar with, it’s the one I sang in college, and it’s music I knew would give me a bit of peace before what I thought might be a hectic music class that day, but instead, Spotify picked the setting by William Byrd, and since then I’ve listened to it literally dozens of times in a bunch of different ways, and it really was a fruitful practice. I do have a lot to share with you from that experience, but first let me be clear that this is not the only genre of music that is open to contemplation. I have experienced a closeness with God through everything from Broadway musicals to Mumford and Sons, so there’s no judgment here, friend. The point of contemplation is setting aside time and focus for God, and since God is everywhere in all things, and since God wants to be found by us, we should be open to where He is leading, and choose contemplative music that makes sense to us in the time we’re contemplating, so I hope all of that makes sense to you today, friend. Here, I’ll describe my experience for you with the understanding that yours will and should be totally different from mine, but I will link Byrd’s ‘Ave Verum Corpus’ in the show notes for you in case you’d like to listen to it. Let’s just always remember that your contemplative experience is just that – yours, in communion with God who loves you.
Okay, so as I said, the first time I listened was in the car, really by accident, and I found immediately that this new driving ‘soundtrack’ colored everything I was seeing with a whole different lens, and this made me want to pay closer attention. Little kids playing in a small blow-up pool on a front lawn, wind moving through leaves in the trees, even my own hands on the steering wheel of my Honda CRV – all of this felt weightier somehow and made me more present to the reality that time is passing, maybe faster than we think, and I knew from this strange experience that there was more in this music that I wanted to contemplate.
In subsequent listenings, I did something that is essential to any contemplative practice and that is making a space and a time that is set apart, and then, asking God to direct my thoughts and any insights that might come from that time of contemplation. These two guidelines bear repeating, friend, so here they are again. In a contemplative practice, we set aside a time and a space, and we ask God for help and direction. This asking does not have to be a long, drawn-out imploring kind of prayer – it truly could be as simple as, ‘Come, Holy Spirit’, but it’s important because our goal here is not music appreciation or even mental or emotional benefit, though we might receive these as by-products, but our goal in contemplation is communion with God. To be very clear, that is our singular purpose.
So, later that day I listened to ‘Ave Verum Corpus’ in the yard while sitting and looking at the sky. I listened a few more times without any distractions including social media. I listened more after looking up some of the history of the piece and the English translation of the words. I listened again in the car a couple of times. Heck, I even listened to it a few times while writing these very words to you, and it must be said that whether or not I had any insights from my contemplation to share with you, the time I spent would have been fruitful anyway because this time was about me and God. And even though I love you, friend, my conversation with you on this topic is honestly kind of extraneous. That’s an important thing to underline here because I want to be clear that there is no such thing as failed contemplation. We give God the time and we invite God in, we ask Him to direct our focus and we open ourselves to receiving what He has for us, but our only job in contemplation is the giving of our time and attention and putting our gaze on God instead of on ourselves. Anything else that might happen from that point on is kind of up to Him.
I did have a couple of insights from this experience, though, that I’m happy to share with you. The first is an image that came to my mind of us, actually – of you and me – walking down a hallway with several doors and then opening them, one-by-one together. It was clear to me that each method of contemplation that we’ll discover this summer was represented by one of those doors and that these could be a really helpful conduit to our deepening relationship with God. In other words, I guess I kind of felt like we’re on the right track. I hope so.
Anyway, the other insight came through the repetition of the phrase ‘miserere mei’ in this piece. This part of the text is not a part of Mozart’s setting, but it is highlighted in this one in a way that my spirit really responded to. The words are translated ‘have mercy on me’, and as I listened to these parts, I really felt the need for mercy for myself, for the church, for all of us. Because there is a boldness, arrogance and really, loudness in this time we’re living in, and I readily admit, it’s in me too, and I guess I just felt the kindness of God gently bringing me back to my place. One beloved human, in need of God’s mercy, just like all of us.
Well, that was a bit of my experience with contemplating music this week, and, friend, I truly hope that you will have your own with whatever music you choose. If you’d like to share your experience with me or if you need me for anything, you can always find me on Instagram @kerrycampbellwrites or on my blog at mylittleepiphanies.com. If you’d like to support this podcast financially, there’s a way for you to do that in the show notes, along with links to the music I contemplated this week, so do check all of that out, but before we go, let’s pray together.
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, amen.
God, in this time that is so challenging for so many of us, help us to remember that we have personal access to you, because of your unwavering and selfless love for us. Help each one listening in their experience of contemplation this week – may each one, with courage and with your grace walk through a good door toward a deeper understanding of you in this time.
Saint Cecilia, patron saint of music, pray for us. And as it says in the words of ‘Ave Verum Corpus’, O sweet Jesus, O holy Jesus, O Jesus, son of Mary, have mercy on me. Amen.
Well, thanks so much for listening today, friend, and I’ll see you next time.
As we explore a variety of methods of contemplative prayer this summer, week one is all about contemplating music. As you choose your music and draw near to God this week, I pray that you will have a fruitful encounter with God who is crazy about you.
If you’d like to connect with me, find me on Instagram or on my blog. If you’d like to help support this podcast financially, there’s now a way to do just that, and thank you – visit me on my page at buymeacoffee.com! Thanks as always for sharing, subscribing, rating, and reviewing, as this helps our community to grow!
Here are some resources I hope will help you to engage with this week’s topic in a deeper way for yourself:
1. Ave Verum Corpus, written by William Byrd and performed by Voices of Ascension Chorus
2. Ave Verum Corpus, written by Mozart and performed by Choir of King’s College, Cambridge
3. Ave Verum Corpus by William Byrd: text, history and translation by Choral Public Domain Library
Primer on contemplation with lots more helpful resources: Raised Catholic episode 78: Contemplative Summer