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Tom Beaudoin

Ambiguous Liturgy

Rock music as religious experience.

A dull and garbled murmur teases my ears, snug in the embrace of my headphones, as if I were floating at the bottom of a pool, half aware of the conversation above. In these moments, outside sounds are summertime icicles, their sharp tips of detail quickly melting into acoustic puddles, and only a diffuse, frothy awareness of a world outside remains.

Down the red stone hallway, in the bomb shelter-sturdy chapel, Mary's forlornly open arms receive the chanting of two dozen brown-smocked monks. While they intone Psalms, I lie in my room here in the monastery where I am on retreat, the light of my laptop shining in the darkness.

There's nothing particularly original about Creed, whose music I'm soaking in, but at ear-damaging levels they are a guilty pleasure, with lyrics elliptically Christian enough to sustain crossover listeners who like their music loud, their doctrine grated through refrigerator-sized amplifiers, their spiritual sentiments unvarnished, and their piety vaguely evangelical.

The effect of the music coursing through my nervous system is to produce a lift, a somatic levity that sends me at once deeply within and outside my body, spacing me in three simultaneous modes: as embodied spirit, as disembodied spirit, and as a spirit ecstatically holding them bound. Playing electric bass in rock bands for the past 15 years has induced similar effects. Occasionally the music, without premeditation, achieves a viscous density like the Catholic oil of chrism at baptism. The resulting lift paralyzes both of my hands, and as they hang in suspended animation for a few beats or a fragment of a beat, I am already recovering them and the lift has passed.

The digital environment of the CD is the plastic, virtual "enclosure" today in which younger generations taste and hear—however briefly and unconsciously—the goodness of life, the grandeur and intimacy of God. As anonymous monastics experiencing culture in solitude, we drown in these acoustic aquariums. But we ...

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