River Road Unitarian Universalist Congregation

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Introduction to Music Sunday

"Why We Have Music Every Sunday Morning"

River Road Unitarian Church
Sunday, May 21, 2000

Rev. Scott W. Alexander


Why do we have music as an integral part of every Sunday morning service here at River Road Unitarian Church? It is NOT (as a few of my spiritually less astute ministerial colleagues seem to foolishly believe) to provide pleasant little interludes and periodic breather-breaks between their profound and marvelously crafted spoken words. While it is undeniable that hymns, anthems, solos and instrumental pieces DO provide an invigorating physical and mental "change of pace" from the discursive (dare I say even occasionally dull) elements of a typical service (and who can doubt that rising for congregational singing keeps the body engaged and alert, no doubt saving many a parishioner from falling asleep during the sermon which follows?) the place music plays in a Sunday morning worship service is far more significant than that, and is indeed inextricably bound up with the very purpose of having a religious service in the first place.

It is my view that the reason we gather in this room for worship on Sunday is because together we seek (in the safe and congenial - and sometimes challenging -- company of others) to go as deeply as we can into that rich and rewarding place where our fullest humanity and finest spirit lie. A Sunday service (that is thoughtfully, spiritually and emotionally structured) bids us to leave the hectic and distracting jumble of our work-a-day lives behind, and enter (alert, attuned, eager and open) into life's deeper, holier, more meaningful and sustaining places - so that we may leave the worship hour refreshed and rejuvenated, ready to return to our weekly routines more fully and finely human.

Now, as a minister primarily trained in the life of the mind, I largely and comfortably live by the written and spoken word. But as a spiritual person moving through my rich and complex world, I keenly understand that the spoken word itself is not even vaguely sufficient to engage, enliven and enrich us as we are constructed in our full and finest humanness. Remember all that "Right Brain...Left Brain" stuff back in the 70s? Perhaps it was a bit of an over-simplified intellectual fad, but it wisely reminded us that human persons (and their neurological systems) are complex things which engage their worlds along distinct and divergent (yet equally important) avenues of engagement and awareness. As I remember it, the "Left Brain" is that side of ourselves which naturally responds to discursive speech, the rules of logic, sequential thought, mathematics and reasoned intellectual constructs...while the "Right Brain" is that equally important side of ourselves which naturally responds to emotional, intuitive, poetic, and physical information. Music (because it has the blessed power to so viscerally and emotionally engage us) is clearly a "Right Brain" activity, whereas the sermon (and other spoken parts of the service like readings, etc.) are primarily "Left Brain" stuff. The reason we have so much music interwoven into the service each Sunday here at River Road is that we appreciate how music (and music alone) has the power to open and enliven us to so many of those deep and sustaining spiritual places within us. Music often magically does a creative "end run" around all the clutter of our busy little brains, going straight to our hearts and emotional centers. Sure a good, rational sermon can touch, bless and inspire us, enabling us to visit some of the deepest and best places of our humanity...but so can a good anthem, solo or hymn. Indeed, if there is any truth to all the "Right Brain - Left Brain" stuff, we regularly need both discursive speech and music (and poetry) if we are to successfully visit and connect up with the full range of our best and deepest selves.


This morning, our wonderful music director Dr. Clif Hardin, our adult choir, and these guest musicians have lovingly prepared for us the Faure Requiem, one of the most beautiful and moving pieces of music Western Civilization has produced. As you can see from the ancient Christian text which we have included in your orders of service, the theology of the requiem is not particularly reflective of current day Unitarian Universalist religious thinking. Let me assure you that your Left Brain could quite comfortably spent the next 30 minutes intellectually arguing with (or rationally rejecting) what is being sung. Of course it is fine (as you listen this morning) to occasionally think theologically or rationally about all of this. But I urge you more (this morning) to enter into this performance with your Right Brain. Let this ancient story about the timeless truth about the fragility of human life and the inevitability of physical death flow through you, asnd touch your heart. Welcome Faure's requiem through all your senses...and permit it to take you to a place (quiet and deep within) where you can feel (or reflect upon) the gift of life you so miraculously possess...even as you are reminded (this day as every day) about how eternally fragile and mortal it is.

Coming to church is all about willfully going to life's deepest and most precious places. Let yourself go to some of those places now.