Reflections on the Music of the Cosmos

The unicorn opened his powerful jaws and music streamed out in full and magnificent harmony.  Charles Wallace’s voice was barely changing from a pure treble to a warm tenor.  Now it was the treble, sweet as a flute, which joined Gaudior’s mighty organ tones.  He was singing a melody he did not know, and yet the notes poured from his throat with all the assurance of long familiarity.

They moved through time-spinning reaches of a far galaxy, and he realized that the galaxy itself was part of a mighty orchestra, and each star and planet within the galaxy added its own instrument to the music of the spheres.  As long as the ancient harmonies were sung, the universe would not entirely lose its joy.

He was hardly aware when Gaudior’s hoofs struck ground and the melody dimmed until it was only a pervasive beauty of background.

~ A Swiftly Tilting Planet, Madeleine L’Engle, 68-69

The fact that music is so time intensive and time involved gives it special powers to disclose something of the nature and character of time.  Of course, time is both a complex and controversial topic in contemporary science and philosophy, but there is much to suggest that music has its own important contribution to make to the discussions.  It is easy to think that the timing of music is entirely something we make–we decide a time signature, we construct its rhythms, accents, and stresses, the length of notes, the length of a piece.  But the Austrian musicologist Victor Zuckerkandl has argued that if we examine closely the way musical notes imply and are bound up with one another, we are led to a distinctive view of time (with more than a little support from the natural sciences), in which time is not some kind of absolute container or channel…, nor simply something we project from our minds onto the world, but an intrinsic dimension of the physical world.  Musical experience, in other words, can serve to remind us of what is arguably a profoundly Christian insight: that time belongs to the very fabric of the good creation to which God is committed, something confirmed and sealed in the life, death, and raising of Jesus Christ.

… music can be one of the most powerful and wonderful ways we have of enjoying, discovering, exploring, and interacting with the time and the time patterns God has imprinted in his physical world.  And as such, it can play a part in reminding us of the reality and goodness of time (and thus, in turn, of the reality and goodness of physical things in time). …

It is not at all obvious that a biblically shaped ecology will press us into believing that God’s purpose (now or in the future) is to extract us from time; such an ecology rather suggests that his intention is to redeem us within and with time–time as part of a temporal creation that awaits transformation. … perhaps music’s most valuable strength…is to give us within this world a sense of transformed or “redeemed time,” that is, temporal patterns that cohere, make sense, enrich us, and as such offer a foretaste of God’s final new creation in the future. …

… music can bear its own kind of witness to this openness [the open and flexible yet ordered givenness of the universe], to the subtle interplay between regularity and unpredictability, constraint and contingency that would seem to mark physical process as discovered by the natural sciences and that can be interpreted through Scripture’s double witness to the Son and Spirit. … There is a profound order (held together in Christ), but that order is “flung out” in a dazzling variety of ways (by the Spirit). …

Just as a painter can learn to notice minute variations in shades of brown in a landscape or a physicist  learn to notice minuscule gradations of color in a spectral analysis, so listeners can learn to distinguish the most infinitesimal distinctions between this pitch and that, this chord and a nearly identical chord.  To talk about educating the ear in this way will often be dismissed as elitist, as if any music worth its salt must be as free of such subtleties as possible.  But is this not to deny ourselves one of the wonders of the cosmos, one of the most extraordinary givens of this, our intended home?

~ Resounding Truth, Jeremy Begbie, 220-221, 224, 234-236

Imagine the birth of a star:

Meg looked about.  Ahead of her was a tremendous rhythmic swirl of wind and flame … this was a dance, a dance ordered and graceful, and yet giving an impression of complete and utter freedom, of ineffable joy, and song, melody soaring, gathering together as wind and fire united.

And then wind, flame, dance, song, cohered in a great swirling, leaping, dancing, single sphere. …its flaming was so intense that the song itself came out of the fire and was part of the burning.

~ A Wind in the Door, Madeleine L’Engle, 154-155, italics mine


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