October 6, 2016

Finding music that leads us deeper into prayer

piano keys

If we’re leading music on retreats, the participants will likely hear thought provoking talks which are obviously very important to the retreat. The gospel will be presented in a new way that will provoke fresh questions about their lives. As important as the talks are, the long lasting effect of the retreat will happen in the times of prayer because prayer engages the deepest part of who we are or our deepest identity.

What if we viewed prayer as an inverted pyramid with five levels? At the top, the widest level, is prayer that asks God for things. We ask God for the sale of our house or for the money to buy a car. The second level of prayer is asking God for help. At this level, we may ask God for help during severe situations. People who are in the wake of natural disasters often ask God for help to get them through their circumstance. Jesus certainly tells us to pray both for the things we need and the help we need. Still in all, there are deeper levels to prayer.

On the third level, our attention shifts from us and we ask to know God. At the fourth level, we listen for God’s voice and become conversant with Him. The fifth and deepest level is communion with God, the place where communication and intimacy happens without words. It is the place of transformation. It is the place for retreat participants to go and musicians have a vital role to play in leading people to this deepest place of prayer.

Just as there are levels to prayer as was described, there are levels to sung prayer. A key element of Christian life is devoted to Christian prayer. It is here that we find a progression. This fourth level speaks about “blessing” God. The roots of this word is the combination of the Latin word for “good” and the Latin word for “speaking”: “bene” and “dictio”. We praise God, speak well of God, and bless God with songs that are more exuberant. Many of the Psalms speak of exuberant praise of God and we as music ministers should be comfortable with leading people in songs that are more expressive and require full-throated singing. Yet, this is not our goal.

From “blessing” we move toward the transitional mode of sung prayer, “adoration”. This word literally means “to pray to”, “ad” “oratio”. In Old French, it meant “to bow down”. In adoration our hearts bend downward before God. Still in all, even this is not our goal. The destination of our songs is the same destination of theology. That is to lead people to the door of silence, the place of communion. Progressing from songs of blessing, such as “Blessed Be Your Name”, to songs that move the heart toward adoration, such as “O God You Search Me”, is important for leading prayer on a retreat. Still in all, we want to lead our people to silence. Of course the likely song is Sacred Silence". It was designed to do exactly that, fade into silence where God and the person are in communion.

Robert Feduccia
Robert Feduccia

Robert Feduccia is an inspirational speaker and ministry leader and the former general manager of Spirit & Song. A gifted presenter on liturgical spirituality, he recently expanded his speaking ministry.

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Parish missions and retreats are an opportunity to invite individuals and communities to come away, rest and re-connect with the God who loves them and calls them by name. Let OCP help you plan your next retreat.