[I]t was not the existence of God that was questioned, first anf foremost, in the Enlightenment, but the relationship between the human and the divine, how spirit and matter interact, and indeed, if they can. The “loss” of heaven, . . . brought with it the perceived loss of divine power over the material universe. – Maeve Louise Heaney, Music As Theology: What Music Says About The Word, p.271
As we come to the end of this work, let me just say that I am very happy I revisited this work. While I still have problems both with organization and content, the conclusion in particular draws together strings and strands from her investigation of the works of others, and weaves an understanding of the Incarnate Word, as a living reality, as our entry point for understanding how music can mediate our understanding of that reality. In particular, her use of the King’s College, London School of Transformational Theology and their emphasis upon the doctrine of the Ascension of Christ leading the church toward a reclamation of the resurrected Christ as a Living Presence here and now. While there is a certain lack of clarity about what precisely this means – and Heaney admits as much – I can best describe it using a neologism: panenChristism. Just as panentheism envisions the presence of God within Creation as a way to transcend too simplistic understandings of immanence, so, too, does panenChristism bring the particularity of the Incarnation as an ongoing reality via the Ascension with sharper clarity. The answer to the contemporary question, “Where did Jesus go when his body ascended?” is not and cannot be answered with a spatial metaphor, for obvious reasons. For Heaney, while there is a Sacramental reality to which all Christians should attend, far more important is to focus not on any spatial metaphor but rather using analogia fidei understand that the Ascension affirms the continuing lived presence of Christ, here and now, without negating the eschatological promise that we shall see face to face what is promised here and now.
Combining this with the already stated reality that of all the arts it is music that brings both performer and listener in to a shared experience and understanding of the here and now, we can now understand the direction in which Heaney is going. While I am uncomfortable with the lack of any dialectical tension not only within her understanding of the Incarnation, but also her understanding of the relationship music creates between performer and audience; the lack of any socioeconomic or deeper historical investigation of the existence of popular music beyond nods toward our current post-modern contradictory suspicion both of large institutions and their metanarratives all the while desiring some belief beyond the here and now and its confusion; the lack of any musical examples beyond the introduction and the use of one of Heaney’s own compositions as an epigraph; these, I think are more areas that others can explore not only to expand but perhaps hone to an even finer point Heaney’s conclusion, which is simple enough: That contemporary music, including contemporary secular music, does indeed mediate the message of the Gospel to some is not enough of an apologia for its existence. As ours is a faith always seeking to understand itself and its relationship with the world, we need to look at this phenomenon and ask ourselves how it is possible. That she comes at the question from both directions – music qua music, theology as the science of the church’s self-understanding – without prioritizing either, but rather seeking a meeting point and finding it in the Incarnation (specifically the Ascended fully human/fully divine crucified and resurrected Jesus Christ) demonstrates, to this reader, that she not only did her work well. In the end, she did it right.
So, I was wrong in my original review back in April. Not exactly a surprise, all things considered. And the work offers fresh insights and thoughts for me as I consider my own approach to the question of Christian faith and contemporary music, how to relate them, and how to use any and all tools to serve the God who Creates, who Saves, and who Perfects in love.