M is for Music


    In the divine alphabet, M is for Music. But first, let’s think about nouns and verbs.
    If I ask you what’s in the room where you are right now, you might answer that there are four chairs, a sofa, some lights, a pile of magazines, a piano, and two cats. (My sympathies to you about the cats.) You would tell me the things that are in the room.
    That’s how we think of the universe as a whole: we speak of the nouns first. Then we’ll talk about what the things do, the verbs. First nouns, then verbs.
    Which is to say, we think of the world as composed of stuff which then goes on to move or act.
    Alfred North Whitehead—a philosopher who died nearly a century ago—tried to do it differently. He said the constitutive bits of the universe are not things (e.g. atoms or even subatomic particles) but events. To ask what’s in your room right now is to ask what’s happening now. It’s as if the verbs could come first, and then the nouns later.
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    There’s a grammatical form called the “cognate accusative.” Don’t let the term frighten you; I’m not sure what it means either. I just know that it appears in Genesis 1 when God gets around to grass. He says (in Hebrew of course), “Let the earth grass grass.” The “grass grass” is the cognate accusative. It’s something like asking the dancer to dance a dance. It wants the earth to be at one with the grassing of the grass, for there to be no space between the actor and the action.
    It doesn’t happen, alas. The text tells us that the earth put forth grass. The earth wasn’t able to do what God wanted.
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    God himself, however, has no space between who he is and what he does, no space, that is to say, between the noun and the verb. Whatever we say about God is just God. There’s no difference between God thinking and God speaking and God being wise and God being beautiful and God being desirable and God being frightening. The God of thunder is the God with the still, small voice. Cognate accusatives, it seems, really work for God.
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    And that’s why I want to say, in the divine alphabet, M is for Music. God just is music.
    Music is one of those things where the noun and the verb are united. What’s in your room right now? Well, perhaps, someone is sitting at that piano you mentioned and playing a little ditty that Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart threw off in the sixteen minutes between his first cup of coffee and his second cup last Tuesday. You know, that infuriatingly brilliant Amadeus. Someone is playing your piano, and the music is real, it is happening, an event, it is somehow all there stretched out over time; and the musician is at one with the music, as Eliot says, for as long as the music lasts. It can be true of the listener as well. “You are the music, while the music lasts.”
    God is that way. Thomists like to say he is Pure Act: not a being who acts, but a being whose being is to act.
    I don’t know what it means, but I like the music.
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    Out & About. This Sunday I am to preach at the outdoor 8 a.m. Eucharist at St. David of Wales, in Denton, and also at their livestreamed Eucharist at 10:30 a.m.
    Next month, I will be teaching a three-Sunday online class at Incarnation in Dallas, starting October 11 at 10:15 a.m. The class is “Three Things God Didn’t Want but He Got Used To: cities, politics, and sacrifice.” Details to come.
    The fall theology lecture will be Sunday, October 25: “What’s Special about Anglicanism?” This also will be livestreamed.
    I have recently enjoyed meeting with various groups, both here in Texas and also in Canada (our neighbor to the north that isn’t Oklahoma). If you have a group that might like to read and talk about Friendship: The Heart of Being Human, I’m all ears.

 

The Rev. Canon Dr. Victor Lee Austin is the Theologian-in-Residence for the diocese and is the author of several books including, "Losing Susan: Brain Disease, the Priest's Wife, and the God who Gives and Takes Away."