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Music as a Doorway to Prayer


Today’s post is by the late Ann Kulp

Music has called us to prayer through the ages: the shofar, psalm, pipes, harp, trumpet, the peal of bells, the carillon, and symphony. Some of us have been stilled and called through Tibetan bowls, whose sound lingers and leads us into the silence of waiting. There is the music of the gurgling brook, wind in the rustling trees, the chirping of cicadas and other natural sounds. There is the music of Native American flute, a jazz band, a Gregorian chant. It matters not what kind. Each is an echo of some sound heard eons ago, and perhaps remembered. At different times in our lives we may hear sounds that become moments of such recollection, drawing us more deeply into the attitude called prayer.

As I ponder the meaning of music for me, I have a sense of being touched deeply, as though certain melodies come from elsewhere, as though they resonate with a part of me with which I have little knowledge. The melodies seem to possess a power to unlock a part of my emotions through a rhythm or sequence of tones that sounds simply sublime. I feel in tune with a different kind of reality, different from my everyday routine. I may experience solace, release, a “lift” or sheer exhilaration. Music becomes a pathway from my head to my heart. My attention is diverted from ordinary distractions to a language that has direct access to my spirit. Music engages me, stills me, inspires me, and sometimes connects me to the Source of all sound and silence. It becomes a holy moment. It opens me to prayer, sheer attentiveness. My heart is open. Music has become the doorway.

Is there a special kind of music that possesses this power? Perhaps, but I rather think it is an individual matter of preference, timing and environment. What might leave me cold at a concert may move me deeply in a quiet place, or vice versa. One can’t predict when that special doorway will present itself. But it does. I like to think that just as the composer was moved to pen the notes, so the listener can be moved to respond to them. If in the divine economy nothing is wasted, then someone will undoubtedly transmit the inspiration of sound to another who is waiting to hear it.

Music, as a form of creative expression, seems to be a doorway for the composer as well as the listener. Both experience its power to touch places not normally available to the conscious mind. Beethoven wrote his Sixth Symphony (the “Pastoral”) after the onset of deafness, when he found greatest solace in nature. Paul Winter was inspired to write “Return to Gaia” (from Earth Mass) after reading a letter from astronaut Rusty Schweickart who spoke convincingly of his deep longing within for Earth/Home. Mahler’s Third Symphony reveals the composer’s spiritual struggle as he presents a cosmological ascent culminating in a triumph both contemplative and explosive, proclaiming, “Love God alone all your life.”

As Westerners, we tend to choose activities that engage the conscious mind. But with music we can be opened to appreciate the raw material of creativity and opened to something deeper in ourselves. Receptivity to the Eternal Sound, as expressed in music, can lead us into the Eternal Silence, to God, with opened hearts.


AnnKulpAnn Kulp was an associate staff member with Shalem for 17 years, leading quiet days, contemplative prayer groups, workshops with Tibetan singing bowls, adult education classes, series on the mystics, and other miscellaneous topics related to spirituality. Ann was a graduate of The College of William and Mary and Northwestern University. This article originally appeared in the Shalem News, Fall 1996.

Shalem is grateful to offer two contributions that Ann worked on during the last year of her life:


spiritwindowsSpirit Windows
is a unique and valuable handbook written specifically to assist leaders in planning experiences such as retreats, prayer groups, church school classes, Bible study groups, and more. This handbook is filled with sample prayers, suggestions for music, meditations, inspirational quotations, retreat ideas and a wide array of other resources. It was revised by Ann and is now offered as an updated edition. Purchase your copy here.

1SquareIcon_Holy_InterruptionsHoly Interruptions: An Online Retreat Day to Cultivate Deeper Divine Awareness. Are you ready for a retreat? Busy schedule keeping you from getting away? With Holy Interruptions, you can take a quiet day wherever you are, and be led by a contemplative teacher to a greater awareness of the holiness found in each moment. Gain a deeper awareness of God’s presence in the mundane, daily realities of your life. Find practices and support you can take with you beyond this online encounter. Through teaching audio and guided meditations, reflection questions, art, and intentional silence, Ann Kulp leads you into holy connections in this virtual retreat space. Materials available now through mid-June. Register here.

7 responses to “Music as a Doorway to Prayer”

  1. leahrampy says:

    This is beautiful. I’m grateful for Ann’s wisdom.

  2. Reblogged this on Healing Soul Streams and commented:
    I love to use music as a doorway to prayer.
    Ann Kulp has so beautifully shared this creative way we pray.

  3. So well said . . . sad I will not get to meet Ann, except through what she has written. Recently wrote a poem about how songs present themselves and minister to us in particularly stressful times. A footnote to Ann’s reflections.

    Songs come to us, unbidden, surfacing from depths of mind
    Where they have laid, in wait, for such a time as this
    Now threading their way through sadder days that beg their tuneful balm
    Binding and blessing wounds that cry out for a soothing psalm.
    Stitching together tattered lives . . . making a piece out of body and soul
    Murmuring “Courage.”, whispering “Calm.”
    Melodies mending the broken heart whole.
    For all the changes, for all the strains and stresses of this season,
    Unbidden, songs come to us.

  4. Great perspective and music. Thanks Ann.

  5. sfunk2013 says:

    Reblogged this on sherreesblog and commented:
    A beautiful addition to thoughts on music and the soul.

  6. Cathy Mac lean says:

    I love this theme about these bowls, never heard of it before. It tells me about what is familiar to other cultures may be new to cultures who never heard about bowls and thought our insyruments of music were all there was to make music!

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