Healing Together: Music Making, Meaning and Ethnodoxology

Abstract by David Williams

Whenever King Saul was tormented by an evil spirit, “David would take up his lyre and play. Then relief would come to Saul; he would feel better, and the evil spirit would leave him” (1 Samuel 16:23, NIV).

Discussions on music often turn to the biblical narrative of David and Saul, seeking answers for the significance of music in worship. What roles does music play in physical and mental health? If music was effective in the healing of Saul in 1 Samuel 16:23, why was it ineffective in 1 Samuel 19:9–10? Can we draw implications from these stories for contemporary worship and music contexts today?

This paper explores the intersection of psychophysiology, ethnomusicology and liturgical theology, for the purpose of cultivating wholistic healing. A complex relationship exists between musical phenomena, the emotion and cognition of the worshiper, and the liturgical environment. The listener approaches the experience of music in the liturgy with certain theological presuppositions about what is to take place, resulting in a diversity of liturgical meaning across the spectrum of gathered worshipers. This dynamic process and polyvalency makes space for an ethnodoxology that cultivates communitive healing through the worship arts.

Human will, theological presuppositions and communal belonging are critical factors that either help or hinder the dynamic nature of music in worship toward wholistic healing. Equipped with sharpened hermeneutical tools, we can re-examine Samuel’s narrative for insights into the role of music and implications for diversity, equity and inclusion among our faith communities.