I’m the kind of guy who is moved by music.
This shouldn’t surprise anyone who knows me, of course. I’ve been singing in front of people since I was two (Oh, dear, what can the matter be; seven old ladies stuck in the lavat’ry…) and began playing guitar when I was nine (You got to know when to hold ’em …).
But I’m not talking about the pleasure and satisfaction I get from making music. I mean that I’m impacted greatly by listening to music. Occasionally, a particularly wonderful song will catch me in the right moment and provoke tears, but more often, I get goosebumps.
Goosebumps?!? What a weird reaction. Why would my body react to beautiful sounds the same way it does to a cold wind? I dunno. Maybe it doesn’t matter.
What does matter is that the music-induced goosebumps are accompanied by a rush of endorphins or something that often result in fits of ridiculous laughter – not the sort of giggles associated with humour, but the nonsensical guffaws of utter happiness. And the difference between goosebumply, joy-fuelled laughter and its humour-driven cousin is the difference between colour TV and black and white.
I’m passionate about my wife and kids, I love the members of our extended families and I greatly enjoy my friends. But I realized recently that when it comes to pure, unbridled rushes of indescribable joy, none of these earthly relationships hold a candle to the power of music – at least for me.
And as appalling as that might sound at first, I think it might be OK. I’ll attempt to explain, but you’ll have to bear with me.
I’ve been mostly aware for a while that I also get a goosebumply rush for spiritual reasons, but it was during this mini-epiphany that I realized these kinds of reactions aren’t just similar or comparable; they’re the same.
Once, it happened during a meeting of my Bible study small group, when we touched on the passage where Jesus prayed to God, saying, ‘Abba, Father.’ I’d always heard that word translated as ‘Papa’ before, but one of the members of the group used a different word – ‘Daddy.’
Cue the goosebumps.
‘If God invites us to call him Daddy, maybe he loves us the way we love our children when they’re toddlers,’ I reasoned. ‘When your one-year-old is learning to walk and she takes a step, then falls flat on her fanny, you’re not frustrated with her failure to take two steps; you’re elated that she managed to take one! “That’s my girl!” you bellow as you scoop her up in your arms, shower her with kisses and tell you how proud you are of her. That’s the way we love our toddlers, and we’re imperfect humans with a frail, crude human hearts; how much greater is our heavenly father’s love for, and pride in, us?!?’
That may or may not be a biblically valid interpretation of ‘Abba, Father,’ but it sure feels right to me and my goosebumps. And I’ve experienced those poky, little visitors increasingly often in recent years, whenever I see evidence of divine action in my life (usually after the fact – my God glasses work best in hindsight, it seems). I also get them when I perceive an invisible, holy thread connecting two seemingly unrelated people and/or events.
I have no empirical basis for this theory, but I’ve started to think that maybe goosebumps are my own, little godliness Geiger counters; that they perk up whenever God comes near – or whenever I come nearer to God, more accurately; when I move a little closer to ‘getting it,’ and let my perception of the universe move beyond the tactile.
And if that’s the case, maybe it’s only right that music sometimes moves me like nothing and no one else on earth. If these giggly goosebumps are indeed harbingers of heaven, shouldn’t all earthly things pale in comparison to the things that trigger them?
But there’s a wrinkle in my theory. If I’m right – if goosebumps are a means God uses to show me that I’m on the right track – what am I to make of the fact that I also get them when I listen to secular music? Stevie Ray Vaughan, Mark Knopfler, Johnny Cash, and even Judas Priest are about as likely to give me goosebumps as the Newsboys, Carolyn Arends, Downhere and Starfield.
I like to hope it’s because even a severely flawed, entirely irreligious person can ‘accidentally’ stumble upon a tiny flash of the greatness of God – like an asteroid randomly passing through the tail of a comet. And because God doesn’t divide secular and sacred like we do, He can reveal himself through the work of a booze-addled, faithless guitar slinger just as easily as he can through a Bible-toting goody two-shoes.
Again, I have no empirical evidence to support that hope. But maybe these secular music-fuelled goosebumps point to God’s efforts to reach out to me, even when the last thing I feel like doing is reaching out to Him.
Whatever else is going on in my life, music makes me feel good. When I let it, great music can cut through stress, loneliness, frustration and disappointment and give me a sense of peace, joy, belonging and connection that nothing on earth can take away.
I wonder if Jesus’ ears are burning.
Peace be with you.