When Music Breaks Your Heart {open}

by | Mar 6, 2020 | Life & Faith | 8 comments

I sat down two hours ago to write this post, but every screen I turn to–phone, tablet, computer–has an update or email or message about COVID-19. And, since it’s in my Seattleland backyard, it’s difficult to ignore. I could scroll endlessly through articles and information, repost and share what I’ve found with updates on the situation–but really? I’m convinced I need to change my focus-for my mental, spiritual and emotional health.

So I’m going to talk about music. How it lifts our spirits, ministers to our souls and breaks our hearts {open}.

In her new book Chasing Vines, author and speaker Beth Moore writes,

Music wields a power words alone can rarely match. It sidesteps your defenses and comes for you without politely asking permission.

Several years ago I was glancing out the window in my study when a Facebook message popped up with a link to Gabriel’s Oboe, a composition by Ennio Morricone from The Mission movie soundtrack. I’d seen the film years before but did not remember this particular piece. It is simple strings and gentle notes from the oboe, resonant of the Angel Gabriel, after whom the piece is named.

As soon as I hit ‘play’ I began to sob. There’s no easy way to say that–the tears came without stopping from somewhere deep inside me. God began a healing process in my life because of that moment, touching a place that was wounded in ways I didn’t even realize. When you listen, see if the final note doesn’t move you in the same way. And if you’d prefer a strings only version, here are 2Cellos and their rendition.

Yes, music can do that. Break our hearts open, bringing healing as well as memories of joy.

Fast forward to last Christmas and a cube-shaped gift with Alexa inside. And by Alexa, of course I mean that little round white device with glowing blue/green edges who is at my beck and call whenever I’m in the mood for music. Our daughter and son in law gifted us with it because they know how much we like listening to music via Spotify and Pandora (we are so hip). The simple-looking disc was super slick to set up and connect to my phone and tablet and voila! she plays everything from morning meditation to Christian instrumental and the Moody Blues. Oh, and Johnny Mathis.

No matter what I say, “hey Alexa, play………” the music goes deeper than just my listening ears and often straight to my soul. When I’m fixing dinner I usually choose Johnny Mathis or Frank Sinatra because it makes me think of my mom. She’s been gone over 30 years but the songs she used to sing come right back to me while I’m waltzing around or chopping vegetables.

Music can literally lift our spirits.

The Psalmist King David wrote Psalms, often set to music, and also played the harp with remarkable results. I Samuel 16:14-23 records the effect of music on troubled King Saul. Bothered by an evil spirit, Saul asked for someone who was skilled in harp playing. David came and shared his gift with the King and (v. 23) Whenever the evil spirit from God bothered Saul, David would play his harp. Saul would relax and feel better, and the evil spirit would go away. 

“The evil spirit would go away.” Well, that’s powerful. Listening to declarative songs about who God is, what He does and whose I am definitely has that effect. This is one of those songs. 

But the music doesn’t have to come from a perfectly recorded instrument or production–sometimes the songs that move the most are those we sing in community with others. They often leave the most indelible touch on our lives.

When our daughter Leah had her first pregnancy loss at 5 months we held a service for this already-named child, Garrison Isaac. (Note: Mary Rebecca Elizabeth was born August of 2019.But that’s a whole ‘nother story.)

At the end of the memorial gathering, we sang a capella, “Sleep My Child and Peace Attend Thee,” an old Welsh lullaby. I nearly didn’t make it through the song, but we sang with our shredded hearts and tentative voices:

Sleep, my child, and peace attend thee
All through the night
Guardian angels God will send thee
All through the night
Soft the drowsy hours are creeping
Hill and dale in slumber sleeping
I my loving vigil keeping
All through the night
While the moon her watch is keeping
All through the night
While the weary world is sleeping
All through the night
Over thy spirit gently stealing
Visions of delight revealing
Breathes a pure and holy feeling
All through the night

Of course, whenever I hear or sing that song I am right back in the small chapel where we gathered to remember Garrison. There is a deep truth behind those clouds of loss and worry, a declaration that reminds me of God’s constant care. A lullaby that breaks my heart {open}, and whose words go straight to my soul.

And oh, how we need that now. Open up your ears, throw your hands in the air and sing or listen or play……

And tell me, what moves you?


  1. “There is a deep truth behind those clouds of loss and worry, a declaration that reminds me of God’s constant care. A lullaby that breaks my heart {open}, and whose words go straight to my soul.”

    Deftly said. Tenderly real.

    My mama used to sing me that Welsh lullaby. Reading the lyrics brought her close, for a moment. Thank you.

  2. Perfect words to read today. The three music videos poured balm into my spirit today, too. Thank you, Jodie.

    I always know that if I feel any spiritual complacency beginning to form within me, all I have to do is listen to worshipful music. When I am enduring any moments of mental, emotional, or physical exhaustion, music both soothes and lifts me up. There truly is something about it that reaches into my soul in ways nothing else does. This, even though I’m a reader and love reading the Word, devotionals, spiritual living books. Music is a gift like no other.

    • Music is a gift like no other…..that is for sure, Carol. I’m so glad I listened to the Holy Spirit’s nudge to put these thoughts to (virtual) paper. God bless you, friend.

  3. Music touches my soul in just the ways you describe so beautifully, Jody. Often it will be while singing in church that the tears of joy and worship will come unbidden. Sometimes I can almost feel the brush of angels’ wings, like we used to sing about twenty years ago or so. God uses music to strengthen and lift my spirit on what Jack Hayford called, “a Holy Spirit breeze of blessing that we simply call SONG” (from the Foreword of the Celebration Hymnal, 1997). I love that definition; ‘thought you might too!

  4. This is lovely, Jody, and so true. God’s gift of music does break open our hearts to all kinds of emotions and to His comforting presence. I was literally just about to sit down at our piano and practice my Bach motets for a concert we’re singing in May. But, in reality, this is far more than practice, because singing Bach links me to God. I experience pure joy when I sing his melismas. Bach himself was a profound Christian who signed every manuscript with “Soli Deo Gloria,” to God alone be the glory. I love these two quotes from him which I’ve combined: “The chief end of all music should be none other than the glory of God and the refreshment of the soul. Where there is devotional music, God is always at hand with His gracious presence.” God truly is always present midst all the vexations and vicissitudes of life, but you’re right: There is something so tenderly emotional about music that often makes us more aware of His presence. I had not heard the oboe solo, and it was so lovely. And I leave you w/ encouragement to listen to Bach’s magnificent Mass in B minor and to this, his Air on G string: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CvglW3KNSsQ

    • Lynn I’m so glad this post resonated with you–music (well, singing) is like breathing for me and it’s woven throughout my days. Clearly it’s your heartbeat, too. I’m not familiar with Bach’s music as I should be and so appreciate the link to the Mass in B Minor. I’ll give a listen later when I can soak it in.

      Thanks again for reading and your comments.

      • Oh I love reading about your musical love for so long. Same here, and mostly classical. 🙂 No, I’d not sent the Mass. It’s very long, and has some lovely choruses. If you’re unfamiliar w/ Bach, you may not appreciate recitatives, but mostly choruses and/or arias. I’d sent you a short, poignant instrumental piece. Also try his motets for some (often) jubilant singing Bear in mind, too, that Bach can often be poignant. Still, it’s always uplifting.
        This is a joyful motet: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6aaESm5ySWU
        Thanks again so much for sharing. Wonderful piece. I’m uplifted.

  5. The Mission is one of my all time favorite movies. Tragic. But filled with another stronger message of hope beyond the flesh of man. The sound track is key to this and the song you mention embeds that invisible hope into the soul.

    Thank you Jody for taking our minds off fear and allowing us to fall into worship. He is our strength and our song. Whom shall I fear?


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