How music heals

Next weekend I will be at a conference on the healing power of creative expression.  Music, of course, is a form of creative expression so what is it about music that heals? Let’s take a few angles on this.

Trees are constantly growing. When a limb is cut off the tree grows around the cut to seal the wound against disease.  In nature, healing is an extension of the capacity for generativity or growth.

Another angle: The psychologist D.W. Winnicott writes that when children play they are becoming who they are. Like a plant growing from a seed, creative play is our sprouting and becoming what God intended us to be. Our becoming is a creative act. More accurately, the journey of our becoming  is a cooperative partnership with our creator. And being of God’s creation, as we grow we heal.

In Matthew 18 the disciples ask Jesus who will be greatest in the kingdom of heaven and he answers “unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” The disciples, stuck in ego mode, substituted the idol of their status for their Creator. They lost track of the co-creating partnership by which they would become who they were meant to be in the kingdom.

Entering the kingdom requires our imagination be united with God’s. And as we play with what that might look like in the here-and-now we become who we were meant to be.

So how does music heal? Let’s broaden the question. If we’re growing, we will naturally heal. So how does music grow us? As with a child at play, any creative activity opens our God-given generativity by softening the ego and opening the heart to make room for a partnership with our Creator in the moment at hand.

The phrase “mother tongue” carries the insight that our language nurtures us into being. Speaking our native tongue, we feel at home. Music is a language of the soul and spirit, When we sing and play at church our egos are softened, our hearts opened, our faith nurtured and we feel at home in our partnership with our Creator.