The Church of Rock
From indigenous shamans invoking the elements through rhythm and dance, to the ancient cult of Pythagoras seeking the ever-elusive “harmony of the spheres,” to Sufi dervishes whirling their way to enlightenment, to the hallowed tones of sacred hymns echoing through secluded monasteries—all throughout history, music has always been an important part of spiritual life. It has been used as an instrument of worship, appreciation, and fellowship; a channel for inspiration and illumination; and a gateway to both sensual embodiment as well as radical self-transcendence. Music has often been thought to mirror the elusive mysteries of creation itself: all melodies reflecting the mathematical patterns of the universe, all rhythms echoing the primordial heartbeat of God.
Such metaphors, however, seem to find little resonance in today’s world. Magical and mythical approaches to reality have been largely supplanted by the skeptical gaze of rationality, while purely metaphysical descriptions of existence have been almost entirely deconstructed by postmodern thought. A great many people have abandoned the myths of the past—exchanging blind faith for calculated reason, agrarian religion for industrial secularism, and the certitude of moral absolutism for the shifting sands of moral relativism. None of this is bad in itself—quite the contrary, it is an indication that the evolutionary engine continues to chug along in this corner of the universe, continuously adding new layers of depth and complexity to the spectra of consciousness, culture, and technology.
We can think of the entire human condition—everything that we are, all of our accumulated experiences, relationships, and knowledge, the essence of humanity itself—being reflected back to us in three dimensions or “value spheres”:
|The Beautiful||The Good||The True|
Prior to the European Enlightenment, these value spheres had existed in a state of undifferentiated fusion, until our newfound capacity for rational empiricism allowed these three dimensions of knowledge to be teased apart at last. The transition from myth to reason prompted an explosive advancement of human knowledge—the previously conflated realms of art, morals, and science became distinct branches of knowledge, each with its own methods of observation, discovery, and enactment. Freed from the spooky shadows of superstition, decoupled from doctrine, dogma, and dread of fundamentalist persecution, and guided by the inner aurora of logic and reason, humanity began to emerge from its collective adolescence.
From the archaic backwaters of magic and myth to the modern miracles of rationality and pluralism—as truly momentous as this advancement was, it was certainly not without its own casualties. As more and more people became critical of traditional approaches to religion and began to shift into more contemporary worldviews, something precious was being almost entirely left out of the picture: our sense of spirituality, our connection to the Mystery, and our recognition of the world around us as sacred. Spirituality itself became confused with mythic belief—and while religion is certainly capable of acting as a “conveyor belt” of human development that helps people develop through magic, mythic, rational, and pluralistic stages of psychological and cultural growth, the vast majority of religions have remained stubbornly embedded within the mythic worldview, and so more often than not the baby of spiritual awakening gets thrown out with the bathwater of religious fundamentalism.
But of course, spirituality does not evaporate from our lives simply because our modern and postmodern worldviews cannot account for its presence or explain its purpose. Scientific materialism tends to strip subjective meaning from the universe by reduce all our experiences to physical interactions, while postmodernism deconstructs our notions of universal truth and replaces it with an endlessly sliding chain of relative truths. As such, it can be easy to feel something like a spiritual nomad, wandering aimlessly through the desert of the Real, searching for some palm-shaded oasis of meaning. When the world cannot make room for it, spirituality has no choice but to become covert—to go underground, to disguise itself in the cultural accoutrements of the times, to find a way to smuggle itself into our modern lives. Spirituality, in other words, has become a game of Kosmic cloak-and-dagger.
There have been few safe havens for spirituality in today’s world, and none so amenable to God’s modern and postmodern plight than within the arts. The realm of Beauty has become a natural asylum for spirituality in the 21st century—perhaps it is because art is allowed to remain so completely unhinged from convention, or because recognition of beauty is such a deeply subjective experience; or perhaps it is because the creative process of inspiration and self-expression is itself so damned inexplicable. Whatever the reason, the fact remains: upon the vanity table of today’s world, art has become Mystery’s most admired mirror.
There are certain aspects of spiritual awareness that are infused within each and every one of us, regardless of our familiarity with the trappings of spiritual life. For example, almost every musician has had some sort of flow state experience, a sense of being “in the groove” or, in athletic parlance, “in the zone”, often described as moments of effortless creativity, spontaneous improvisation, rapturous inspiration, peak performance abilities, powerful feelings of bliss, love, and openness, experiences of self-transcendence and oneness with the music, the band, the audience, the universe, etc. These flow states have very much in common with the spiritual states cultivated by traditional contemplative practices from all the world’s religions—whether meditation, prayer, or otherwise. But it’s not just the artists having these experiences, but the listeners as well—we form intimate relationships with music that can be deeply personal as well as profoundly transpersonal, using our music collections to both shape our identities and transcend identity itself. It is very possible for music to invoke these same flow states simply by listening deeply, becoming fully absorbed in the song, lost in the music, hearing the pregnant silence behind every tone. When listening to a really good song, there is an opportunity to actually feel creativity come alive—the very same creative force that ignites the stars and breathes life into dust, unraveling itself in the timeless moment, as if it were being played right in front of you for the first and only time, never to be heard again.
We all seek meaning. We all seek relationships. We all seek communion with the world around us. We all seek happiness, pleasure, and sensual embodiment. And at one time or another, we all seek change, transformation, and self-transcendence. These are all distinctly spiritual impulses, and, for many people around the world, are being fulfilled through the temple of iTunes more than any other source, religious or secular.
And so—to every artist bobbing for muses by dunking his head into the murky waters of the Mystery; to every listener who uses the song to hear the silence behind every sound; to every stadium-sized congregation of faithful frenzied fans; to every rhythm, melody, and flavor of noise ever to seduce the human ear: you are all part of the Church of Rock! Where Spirit no longer needs to hide—where we can all see God dancing in the math, in our relationships, and in our hearts—and where together we slowly awaken to the universe as it always already is: a Uni-Verse, One Song, forever rippling through the eternal silence behind this and every moment.