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Music, Consolation and the Body

Posted in: General by Maeve Heaney on February 1, 2013

In a recent blog, Tom Beaudoin spoke about bodily response to music at a concert – vicarious, in this case, where he could not. I am also thinking about body issues these days. Partly because in the midst of a geographically disperse year – one of the constants is that fact that I have taken up running. Am still a beginner and seek out non-hilly routes 🙂 but it is taking on the colour, to quote the words of an article in America on running and communion of “a certain foolish slavery to routine” (Janowiak 2003), through which, nonetheless, something happens. And I found myself thinking and asking the question about if we couldn’t think about a type of ‘consolation’ of’ in the body, and therefore the possibility of learning discernment  in and through that bodily consolation.

But it lead me to think about music, and its effect on the body and running. Over three days conscious observation, 2 out of 3 people running in the Englischer Garten in Munich wear earphones for devices to listen to music as they run (one supposes, unless they’re hearing the morning news). What music are they listening to? Why do we listen to the music we listen to at any given moment? Why do we choose the music we choose? Not what music do we like, but rather from the music we have in our ipod, why pick one song/ genre/ group in one moment and another in another? I guess that question can always be asked  – what moves our choices? But right now I am thinking in terms of how it affects our bodies. I know as I start out in the morning, I make a choice of music, and it usually has to do with how I’m feeling, inside and out. When I started running, I always picked heavy-ish rhythm’d rock or at least upbeat music, as it lent strength while I  struggled to breath or keep going…ok then – even to start :-).  But now it depends… if I’m in need of conscious prayer, I sometimes go to music in which the words help, or are intentional prayers, but more often than not I think I simply listen to my body, and sense what ‘fits’, what is needed, what could be life-giving, or refreshing, or stimulating… what fits with how I am bodily, or body, mind, soul, spirit all together.

Reading about the ‘birth’ of the concert hall as a ‘modern’ phenomenon recently, in order to favour listening to music, the same question emerges, in relation to styles of music. At a concert hall, one sits still to listen, supposedly, with all stillness – no moving of seats, and one should really try not to cough. Perhaps the best illustration of this to be found is John Cage’s groundbreaking 4,33, a piece in three movements for any number of instruments, in which none of them play a single note. The aim (among others) is not to show the role of silence in music, as much as to draw people’s attention to the atmosphere and surrounding sounds that make up the musical experience. I find the stillness and lack of movement provoked in this performance at the Barbican Hall in london fascinating. The tension and attention provoked is astounding.

(Patience to listen through the silence to experience this concert is well worthwhile):

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Compare with chicago’s flash dance for Opra Winfrey.

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I know it’s controlled and therefore slightly contrived but from immobile to dance, the point is made. So back to my initial questions… why do we choose in given moments different types of music? How does it make our bodies feel? And could not the rest of us learn/discern something through that?

Thus states Ephesians 2, offered this week as one of the weekday Scripture readings for some of the Christian churches around the world, and I am left thinking: “seated, in heaven, with you…right now” That Jesus is seated at the right hand of the Father is already something our post-Copernican minds struggle with, because where is heaven, anyway? But that we also have been introduced into that place where he reigns challenges the way we inhabit the space we live and move in ‘down here’ or rather ‘right here’ and ‘right now’. Because space and time are relative. It’s one of the things music reveals to me daily: waiting for the green light as a pedestrian to cross the road (I am currently in Germany – the only European country I have lived in that obliges pedestrians to obey their lights J) – a continuous stream of never-ending moments… unless, that is, I am caught up in the music that fills my mind; Then, the time I am living in is the rhythm pulsing through my brain – sometimes moving me forward, others stretching and holding me (back) in what feels like time held, but it’s longer than usual, and I am not pushing against the limits imposed on me from the outside, but rather awake to that moment. And the space I walk through has a different feel to it.

A lot has been written on the time- value of music (most well known, perhaps, is the writing of Jeremy Begbie), but what about the way music affects how we inhabit space? This is one of my ongoing questions, but today I think of it in terms of how we are ‘seated in the heavens’. We live in a sensorial world – and the only way to the Sprit is through matter – the only way to heaven is through earth.

Any music could have spoken to this thought, but today it was this one:

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My hands are cold, my body’s numb/I’m still in shock, what have you done? /My head is pounding, my visions blurred/Your mouth is moving, I don’t hear a word

And I hurt so bad, that I search my skin/For the entry point, where love went in/And ricocheted and bounced around/And left a hole, when you walked out

I’m falling through the doors of the emergency room/Can anybody help me with these Exit Wounds?/I don’t know how much


The “Faith and Science” of The Script

Posted in: General,Lyrics,Ruminatio by Maeve Heaney on September 29, 2012

When my nieces introduced me to The Script, I will admit that the title of the first CD I tried out grabbed me: “Faith and Science” – hardly surprising for someone who was theologically trained in fundamental theology and theological aesthetics. In truth, there is only one song that develops that theme – the 4th track of the same title. Although it could be fruitfully brought into dialogue with PierAngelo Sequeri’s theology of faith and trust (and perhaps I will in a future post), it is not the only one I like.

I admit it: I’m hooked. I love their music. From the first guitar riff of the first song “You won’t feel a thing”:

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my bad days are interrupted and touched by something my body recognizes and moves to, inside and out. So in the next blog or two I am gonna reflect a little bit about what and why that is. They’re Irish (Dubliners even :-)) – but I will declare with complete honesty that I only found that out after I started investigating them. But of course it only endears me further. There is always gonna be that fascinating, albeit paradoxical, pull to and rejection of the mystical side of life that is such a part of my nation in ‘recent times’, and that I recognize.

What they say about themselves is interesting, and again has to do with what making-music implies, as much as, or as a means


Of Winger and Theology: Part Two

Posted in: General by Tom Beaudoin on June 24, 2010

One way to find Winger (and much of rock music and culture) theologically interesting has to do with bodies. We can ask: What does rock culture model about bodies for those who partake of that culture?


For many complicated reasons, Christian theology has been invested in this question for a long time. The human body has been a site of interest, and “bodiliness” itself a site of invention, for the entire length of the tradition. The debates often center around how the body is a conduit for divinity. Christianity has contributed a remarkable share of creative means for having the body as a beautiful experience of being reconciled. It has also contributed powerfully domesticative and destructive body philosophies and practices.

Christianity has taken on as well as contributed to such creative and domesticative body philosophies and practices. Whatever else a theology of the body is about, it is always at least a theography of cultural materials in a situation for Christian use. This should make the theologian interested in what they can learn of bodies from around them in the larger culture. This is especially true of examples from the larger culture that are influential, or can perhaps be made theologically to be influential.

Thus can we come to rock with a keen theological interest, for rock culture has too always been wrapped up in bodily expression and knowledge, somatic invention, happening, wizardry, particularly in its musicianship and fan behaviors. So we can come to Winger.

To be continued…

Tom Beaudoin

New York City, United States

The Practice of Modification

Posted in: General,Practices by Tom Beaudoin on February 11, 2009

“Take a deep breath in — then breathe it out.” At the lung-summit between inhalation and exhalation, a spiky pain ran through me. Then again. Then one more time. Yesterday, I underwent three new piercings at Red Rocket Tattoo here in NYC. Nothing too adventurous – just my ears.

In a room laden with cigarette smoke, hip-hop and chunky rock, and under the care of latex gloves and some 70 or 80 crucifixes adorning the wall over the windows looking out onto West 36th Street, the piercing artist at Red Rocket led me through the ritual with a friendly and nonchalant skillfulness born of 11 years at his craft. He let me ask him about the crucifixes (one of the artists there was apparently a religion major as an undergrad and developed an interest in them), and about his own work, which he called the “practice of modification”. He briefly initiated me into some of the philosophy: we all “modify” our bodies in quest of some goal, pushing against pure naturalness (an unwashed, uncombed, unclothed, funky possibility that he summoned imaginatively for me). And he was simply taking this everyday practice and making of it an art for living.

Putting two and two together, I wanted, then, to ask him or the other artists around about those crucifixes. There were, after all, a lot of crucifixes bearing a writhing Jesus, and not just empty crosses. Weren’t those crucifixes in some way talismans of the modification philosophy? From the piercing of ears to more radical modifications, like the “pointing” of ears and more, why wouldn’t a practitioner-of-modification find in the crucifix, with its singularly overfamiliar depiction of the almost unutterable excruciation of nails run through Jesus’ hands and feet, thorns on his head and a spear-gash in his side—why wouldn’t this portrayal of a desecrative “practice of modification” be part of the symbolic world of some tattoo and piercing artists? And therein be spiritually significant?

This imaginative composition of theological space—on Red Rocket’s part and on mine—need not be thought of as a Christian-rock-ification of a tattoo parlor. No, beyond Christian rock and its Christian-tattooing and -piercing analogues, wouldn’t there be an appreciation for what can be had, on the order of askeses, in this space?

Theology, therein, does not lose its voice but learns it. If, that is, theology is askesis, and a particular askesis for askeses.

Tom Beaudoin

New York City

Dutch theologian Edward Schillebeeckx offers a striking analogy in his now classic work, Christ the Sacrament of the Encounter with God (Sheed & Ward, 1963):

Just when a drummer is playing he is extending himself through all his bodiliness into the instruments grouped about him, so that these instruments dynamically participate in the very expressiveness of his rhythmic movement, making but one total movement which, arising from within the drummer, flows through the rhythm of his body, of his beating hands and stamping feet, and produces a varied harmony of percussion—so too the heavenly saving will of Christ, through his glorified body, makes one dynamic unity with the ritual gesture and the sacramental words of the minister who intends to do what the Church does (p. 77).

As a Catholic theologian, who also happens to play drums in a rock n roll band, and who, incidentally, recently wrote a book on the resurrection, I find this comparison startling and suggestive. Christ’s “glorified body” and the drummer’s body? But of course!

My band, West of Sky, performing at Cicero's (Saint Louis, MO, June 2008)

My band, West of Sky, performing at Cicero's (Saint Louis, MO, June 2008)

Speaking from experience, playing drums is a visceral transcendence. The body becomes all rhythm and all sound, rapt in a unified sonic event with percussive pressures felt by others from deep within. Having become wholly expressive from the inside out, from the limb to limb, the drummer’s body “disappears” into the play; and thus it becomes more completely itself. How very Eucharistic. . . .