200607 – The Rhythm, the Melody, and the Holy Groove

Yr A ~ Trinity ~ Matthew 28:16-20, 2 Corinthians 13:11-13

I’m not really going to preach about the Biblical texts this week – instead, I’m going to focus on a concept – the concept of the Trinity. It’s been said that the Trinity is one of those things that every Christian knows and understands intuitively but can’t really put into words. So instead of putting it into words I’m going to put it into music – with the warning in mind that, “Talking about music is like dancing about architecture.”

How do you explain the relationship of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit in a way that gets beyond both the literal and the purely abstract? Often we talk about the Trinity as being our experience of God as ‘beyond, around and within’ us – as an effort to express the totality and fullness of God. But how can anything be beyond me and beside or within me at the same time? It doesn’t seem to make sense. But this kind of multiple expression of a single idea or concept or reality can be much more easily understood if we apply it to music.

Music – like God – exists and is experienced as an entity beyond any singular definition or expression or categorization. Even though no one can adequately come close to defining it there’s also no one who could rationally deny the existence and myriad manifestations of music. So, music is clearly beyond us and our linguistic abilities – and yet, at the same time music exists and is experienced all around us in a number of different forms.

Music exists in printed form – as a symbolic language that represents the notes and rhythms that the composer intends to have sounded. But is that music? Certainly we can identify the symbols as pointing to music but it arguably isn’t music until it’s brought to life. And yet, a person who has the basic skills in reading music notation can actually ‘hear’ the music as they look at the printed page. When I open a hymn book and look at the page I can hear the hymn, without hearing the hymn.

Music also exists in audible form that has to be actively experienced. This is by far the most common way that music exists. Music that’s heard. We can hear music that’s pre-recorded and played through some media device, broadcasted via radio, television or internet, or performed by musicians in our immediate presence.

But beyond these usual forms is another expression of music that seems to exist within the very centre of our being – an inner music that we can just ‘hear’ within our minds and hearts even though the person standing beside us would hear nothing (except, of course, their own internal music playing).

If you doubt this phenomenon I need only point you to the incredibly annoying reality of the “ear worm” – a piece of music (invariably one that you find irritating and inane) that for whatever reason finds its way into your consciousness and starts playing over and over non-stop until it drives you insane. (I thought about giving you an example, but I don’t want to lose any viewers!)

Another proof of music existing within us is the truth that in our heads we can hear a favourite song running around inside us – or maybe music that we’ve never heard before. Everyone has music in them. (!)

Music is.
Music exists as a general overarching concept that everyone can attest to but no one can pin down, and it also exists in tangible forms that everyone can see and touch and experience, and it also exists innately in our brains and hearts in ways that only we can personally hear even though we can attest to a commonality of experience.

Well, isn’t that the essence of the Trinity?
Transcendent music, tangible music, and immanent music – music beyond us, music around us, and music within us – Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

Ok – so far so good – but now what? What do we do with that? We need to dig deeper.
Knowing and feeling that Music is – that God is – is not enough. We need to understand it more.
And so we attempt to put it into words – and we fail miserably.

Well, I’m going to try anyway! But instead of using words I’m going to use music!
In order to work out the complexities of the dynamic relationship between and among the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit I’m going to talk about the Rhythm, the Melody, and the Holy Groove!

Rhythm is the foundation of all music. And it’s powerful!
I’ll never forget the night I chaperoned a high school prom and I was having a lovely conversation with a bunch of graduating students when the DJ put on a certain recording and the kids I was chatting with suddenly screamed and ran to the dance floor and started dancing like crazy.

But the funny thing was that the first full minute of the song was nothing but a bass drum (or at least it seemed like it).
It was relentless – but that’s all there was – just that foundational core rhythm – boom-boom-boom-boom – and the kids went wild. It reached inside them and propelled them onto the dance floor. If you stood close enough to the speakers not only could you hear it but you could feel that rhythm – like a heartbeat – boom-boom-boom-boom.
That’s the power of our foundational rhythm.

If we just quickly considered what makes music interesting or enjoyable we might be tempted to say it was the melody. A beautiful melody can surely move our spirit in profound ways. But how does a melody take its shape? It relies on two things – pitch and rhythm. It’s the rhythm that carries the pitches forward creating a line and a phrase and an idea. Melody is the main tune that carries the core information and interest. It’s what makes a certain song unique and distinctive.
But a melody is defined by rhythm.

Now, a melody can be played without musicality too. It can be lifeless and lackluster no matter how appealing the combination of pitches and rhythm may be. This is one of the intangibles about music – that even if you play the right note at the right time it can still be missing something.
The secret ingredient to music really moving the listener is known as the groove.
Groove gives notes and rhythms life.
Groove is the aspect of music that brings out the passion and the depth.

If music was a human body then the Rhythm would be the heart, the Melody would be the mind, and the Groove would be the gut.
But we need to remember that we can’t have a melody or a groove without the core foundational rhythm.

Ok, that was all about music – but can you see how it was actually all about the Trinity too?
In my metaphor the Godhead in totality is Music – and what makes up the Godhead (in our faith tradition) is the Trinity – the Father is the Rhythm – the Son is the Melody – and the Holy Spirit is the Holy Groove.

The Father is the Rhythm of all we are – the rhythm of birth, life and death, the rhythm of the seasons, our breathing, our walking, our heartbeat – exercise, excitement, arousal, aliveness! It’s the fundamental vibration at the heart of the universe. All that makes up our foundational experience of Rhythm.

Jesus, then, is the Melody for us – with his unique teachings and life that form and inform our core worldview and practice. The beautiful melody that Jesus sang with his life was truly beautiful because of the rhythm that carried and defined it (God) and the groove that made it resonate so passionately and so fully (Spirit).

And the Spirit, then, is the Holy Groove.
Do you remember the classic TV show “American Bandstand”? It ran from 1957 to 1989. They did a segment each week called ‘Rate-a-record’ where a couple of fresh-faced kids would stand with Dick Clark and comment on the new song they’d just danced to. Invariably, their first words were “It’s got a great beat and you can dance to it. I’d give it an 85”. The beat is the thing that attracted them. Now, they didn’t mean the beat as in just the rhythmic pattern (although, clearly, you can’t have a beat without rhythm), they meant that ‘something more’ than just the collection time values. They meant the groove.

Lots of different songs can have the same meter, the same tempo, the same rhythmical values (quarter notes, eighth notes, combinations, etc.) but the thing that separates them is their groove. Those kids could have said “It’s got a great groove”. And if they were really tuned in they might have even said, “It’s got a great Spirit.”
Groove is that thing when you’re listening to music that makes your chin thrust forward like a chicken, and your head kind of bob, while your lips are pursed and your eyes are closed.
(Come on – everybody do it with me – no one can see you!)
That’s groove.
That’s like the Holy Spirit moving musically inside you.

So – Father, Son and Holy Spirit is kind of like Rhythm, Melody, and Groove.
But what do we do with that as followers of the Way of Jesus – as singers of this song?
Well, Matthew tells us we’re called to go into the world and be and make ‘musicians’ (disciples).
So if our melody is Jesus, then our task is to take that melody and interact with others – to celebrate Music together, to jam, to groove on.

Let’s push the metaphor a little further.
If I try to sing along with his melody – I can emulate Jesus.
If I sing a harmony part – if I sing essentially the same thing but in a slightly different way – I can walk along with Jesus.
If I sing a counter melody – if I try to create a new somewhat unique but still related melody that complements and supports the main melody – I make the music richer.
And if I go too far, I’m no longer harmonizing or complementing – I’m fighting against the melody – I’m creating discord.

It should be noted, however, that one person’s discord is another person’s beautiful harmony.
Remember when you were younger and your parents reacted negatively to your favourite music. It sounded great to you, but they weren’t accustomed to it – and they couldn’t necessarily hear in it what you heard. So we had a communication gap – and we agreed to disagree over whether the music was any good or not. Historically, each generation tends to push the boundaries of the previous generation’s music.
Why wouldn’t the same hold true for theology?
Most of our theological spats are basically a spiritual case of “turn that crap down”!

And thusly this particular song about the Trinity ends – leaving us perhaps no nearer to understanding our One God in three persons, but maybe giving us a new way to contemplate the question.
Can any concept other than music come closer to expressing our experience of the purpose, presence and power of the Holy More?

Aldous Huxley said, “After silence, that which comes nearest to expressing the inexpressible is music.”
And Victor Hugo said, “Music expresses that which cannot be said and on which it is impossible to be silent.”

And so, may music give voice to the power and presence of God in your life, and may the Rhythm, the Melody, and the Holy Groove bless you and inspire you to sing your own beautiful song of faith.