My English teachers from my past would be shocked to read the following admission: I like essays. And now to properly nuance that statement: I like reading other people’s essays. Much like short stories, I find essays valuable to read because they often deal with issues in much more concise ways than entire volumes. Also, reading an essay allows me to feel like I can read material in managable chunks, rather than try to read an in-depth analysis and feel guilty that I can only sit through 40-45 pages before I become completely bored with the subject matter.
I’ve been reading a collection of essays on Christian Worship by John D. Witvliet. Dr. Witvliet is the director of the Calvin Institute for Christian Worship in Grand Rapids, MI. He is both a musician and a theologian and is able to wed the two disciplines in his writing. Here is a selection from the essay “Soul Food for the People of God” that is appropriate as we prepare for the Advent season:
Good music can also inoculate us from spiritual disease. Consider the prominent spiritual disease of sentimentality: religious experience as candy-coated happiness and bliss. If we feed our souls a steady diet of musical candy, we will have little spiritual protein to sustain us. This is no more true than at Christmas. Here is a time of year when broken and hurting and grieving people often hurt the most. And yet it is a time of year when we most often serve up rank sentimentality in our music. This can happen as easily with music sung by pop artists as with music sung by English choir boys. Even really good choirs often sing many songs that are lullabies to Jesus or that are about three ships sailing in or about unknown words such as fum or about swinging steeple bells or merry gentlemen not being dismayed — all of which prevent us from focusing on the incomprehensible paradox of the incarnation. When the incarnation does come through, when we do sing “Hark, the Herald Angels Sing” (one of the most theologically profound of all carols) and actually attend to the meaning of the text, our souls are fed with the protein of deep spiritual life.
from “Soul Food for the People of God” in Worship Seeking Understanding by John D. Witvliet, p. 235