Music as a Contemplative Exercise

I have known Donelda for approximately 20 years. We first knew each other as we shared counselling training classes. Since that time we have shared lots of meaningful spiritual growth discussions, silent retreats, as well as had fun holiday times together. I value Donelda’s friendship and so admire her sensitivity to God’s voice within her. I can attest to the fact that this is indeed one of her ways of being contemplative with God.

Donelda Seymour has worked with children and their families as a Teacher and a Counsellor for over 25 years. Her formal training is in the areas of volunteer management, teaching, counselling, biblical studies, Samuel’s Mantle and spiritual direction. She is currently working full time as a counsellor in the education system and is developing a part-time practice in supporting people’s personal growth through spiritual direction and pastoral care and training. She has a keen interest in all things creative and likes to dabble in art, music, photography and theatre. I am so glad to introduce you to my friend, Donelda.


Using Music as a Contemplative Exercise

by Donelda Seymour

I was born in a family where music was almost always playing somewhere in the house. Whether it was my Mom humming and singing or my Dad listening to records, or my uncle playing the guitar, or me practicing one of my instruments, there was music on somewhere. Perhaps that is why I find that I often connect in a deeper way with God through music than through many other mediums. Although I do love using such things as Lectio Divina, the Prayer of Examen, Prayer Beads and Old Liturgical prayers from Julian of Norwich, or the Celtic Daily Prayer Book, or daily prayers on the website “Sacred Space”, Mediating using Art or getting out into nature and listening to God, even still, it is music that somehow speaks most powerfully to the “deep calling unto deep” part that longs to be centered in the presence of God.

Now I am of the opinion that “Contemplative practices” can basically be almost any vehicle that will help us attune ourselves to that “holy of holies” in our hearts. Although most people think of “quiet” or even “silence” when they think of contemplative practices, I believe from my own experience that a variety of vehicles can be used, one of which is music. I love the diversity that God has given us in this wonderful gift, and the fact that we can enjoy his presence through a variety of “sounds”. I will give an example. Take the piece by Tim Hughes – “Beauty Of Your Peace” from the album When Silence Falls.

Your voice has stilled the raging storms
The wind and waves bow down before
Your still small voice brings hope to all
Who wait on You, we’ll wait for You
To lead us to the place where You’ll restore our souls
And all our earthly strivings come to cease
Take from our souls the strain and stress
And let our ordered lives confess
The beauty of Your peace
The beauty of Your peace
Bright skies will soon be overhead
We’ll enter in to Heaven’s rest
There’ll be no death, there’ll be no pain
The things of old will pass away
You’ll lead us to the place where You’ll restore our souls
And all our earthly strivings come to cease


I have often played this when I become aware that I have a lot on my mind and there is somewhat of a “storm” raging inside in terms of the cares I may be carrying for others. I light a candle, sit in my favourite chair in the living room, turn this tune on in my itunes collection, and put it on repeat. Then I sit back and I listen to the words and allow the song to wash over me. The first time, I may sing along or I may imagine singing it in my head as a prayer. As I listen again the second time, I offer up my imagination as a meeting place for God to meet with me.  He and I enter into the song together. As I do, I find that He takes from my soul all the strain and stress I have been carrying, and I become more at peace as “all my earthly strivings come to cease”, and the beauty of His peace really does begin to fill my heart, and soul. Sometimes, I will go into intercession for some of the things that have come up-willfully giving them over to him and in exchange, receiving His peace and then moving back into a quieter contemplative place, where once again, I am just resting in his presence and drinking in his peace.  When I have listened to the song a few times, I shut it off and sit in that peace. I find that the song is a “jumping off point” for me. Sometimes I am left in silence and just enjoy that place with Him. Sometimes I move into gratitude for His peace and His presence and all He is and has done for me. Sometimes, I am moved to get my journal and write to Him, or listen to his words to me, and write them down, and then enter into conversation with Him. I never know where it will go when I start, but I always encounter God in the midst of this and come into a deeper place of awareness. I usually end up sitting in a place of rest, or lying on the floor imagining myself at His feet.

Sometimes, I may look up the words to the song before hand, and then sit and read over a phrase from the song at the end of my listening, particularly if there is one part that God seemed to highlight for me. This then will become a prayer or a phrase that I repeat to myself, and use as a prayer exercise. Sometimes, I will stick with a song or the phrase or word from a song for a longer period of time, and just use that as a point of meditation and prayer. I often wake up in the morning, or throughout the night with a particular worship song on my mind, and often it is an invitation from God to focus on a particular truth within the song, and it becomes my place of meeting with him. I will get up and find that song, and then use it as a meeting place with God, to enter into a “contemplative” place.

If there is a piece of music that is more instrumental and does not have words, then I will play the song, and just rest in God’s presence and focus on Him. Sometimes I may get an impression, or a picture in my head, and God will speak to me about things on his heart, or I will notice an emotion, emerging from the music, or a sense or feeling, or some kind of response that may not have “words”, and I will bring that to God and try to go with it, where He leads me. Sometimes, there are tears, sometimes laughter or worship and praise that rises up, or revelation and insight, or just a deep sense of gratitude – one never quite knows where God will lead. I just appreciate that the music calls to the deeper place, and it becomes a doorway into my own cathedral where I meet God.

In the Christmas season, I have listened to “Breath of Heaven” off of the Humble King Album-Christmas around the World by Vineyard. I love this song as I it is like a Lectio Divina exercise where one would read about the journey of Mary before the birth of Christ. In fact at times I have taken a piece like this and combined it with a reading of scripture that fits with the theme of the song. Like the Magnificat in D by Bach, this piece allows us to enter into the experience of Mary, and in a way, enter too into the experience of making our hearts ready, to be open to what God is birthing in us. The words and melody are a prayer to God. It is a supplication. For His Breath to breathe on us, and much like the Jesus prayer- with it’s Lord have mercy on me a sinner- this theme echoes in the chorus of “Help me be strong, help me…” you can hear the cry for God’s mercy. I find this piece a wonderful piece to enter into in preparation for Christmas or a time of waiting:


Breath of heaven

I have traveled much moonless night
Cold and weary, with a babe inside
And I wonder what I’ve done
Holy Father, you have come
And chosen me now
To carry your son

I am waiting in a silent prayer
I am frightened by the load I bear
In a world as cold as stone,
Must I walk this path alone?
Be with me now
Be with me now

Breath of heaven
Hold me together
Be forever near me
Breath of heaven
Breath of heaven
Light up my darkness
Pour over me your holiness
For you are holy

Breath of heaven

Do you wonder as you watch my face
If a wiser one should have had my place
But I offer all I am
For the mercy of your plan
Help me be strong
Help me be
Help me


Breath of heaven
Breath of heaven
Breath of heaven

Another song I have been using is the song “Intimacy” by Johnathan David Hesler on either the album – Long Story Short – or – Walk through the Walls. This is a great song to focus on the aspect of God’s wooing of us, and the fact that he has made us for intimacy with Him. The mood of the song is somewhat haunting, and evocative of a dream. I find that it helps me to focus on drawing closer to God, and realizing more deeply that intimacy is calling all of us!



These hands you made to hold yours, my love
These feet you shaped to walk with you in our garden
These eyes you placed to gaze upon your face
These lips you formed to kiss my beloved

I was made, I was made for intimacy

These ears you made to hear your rhythm of love
This voice you placed to sing songs of grace
This hair you wove, you numbered every strand
This gaze you love, it captures you with a glance

Intimacy is what I need, intimacy is calling me”

Jen Johnson has just released a beautiful song through Bethel Music, which you can check out on Vevo, called “Come to me”.   (You may need to join to check this out – but it’s free!)  This is presently my new favourite tune, as she sings it as though God is singing it right to the listener-heart to heart.  Grab a chair, sit back, get into a contemplative posture, and open your heart to hear what God may speak to you through it. Like Lectio Divina – where scripture is repeated and pondered on a few times, try playing this song over a few times, and see if there is a phrase, or a portion of the song that God highlights for you. You may want to write out the phrase in your journal, after you have listened. You can spend time resting in His invitation to you. Then you may want to pray with it, or say it, or sing it back to God, changing the words as a response back to Him. For instance, where the song says- “Come to me, I’m all you need”, you may find yourself responding back to God – “I come to you, you’re all I need.”  You can check out different genres of music on Youtube, Vevo, Myspace, or even sites like “Rockin with the cross” where you can play examples and get chord charts to play various tunes yourself. You can try some homegrown music from local grassroots websites and you may find some real gems like –

I have very eclectic taste – from Gregorian chant to Rock n Roll, and I realize that some of these tunes may not be very “contemplative” for some, but it’s fun to check various pieces out to see what speaks to you. There are so many great pieces of music out there to choose from. Here are some of my current favourites – Ana Vandas – “My Name” from the All I thought I knew- Album. Bruce Cockburn-“Lord of the Starfeilds”, Van Morrison -“Be Thou my vision”, Chris Tomlin -“My Beloved”, Josh Young -“Beautiful (you take me away), Brian Doerksen-”Creation Calls”, or “Song for the Bride”. Vineyard Music-“I love your Presence”, FFH -“Where you are”, The Priests -“Panis Angelicus”, or “Pie Jesu”, Hidegard Von Bingen’s spiritual songs on Sequentia -“Voice of the Blood” album-in latin), John Michael Talbot -“Aima Christi”, Alberto and Kimberly Rivera -“Awaken” or “Ruah”, ISA -“Beautiful” (soft acoustic), Graham Ord -“Chill Album”(instrumental), Laura Woodley -“Home Album”, Sons of Korah -“Redemption songs (all songs acoustic based on the psalms). Bach -“Magnificat in D” “Shane and Shane -“Awaken Me”, Misty Edwards -“I am yours”, Gungo r-“Beautiful Things”, Chris Tomlin -“Me Beloved Mine, I His”, Tim Hughes – “The beauty of your peace”, Rita Springer -“Just to know”, The Wildings -“Fall on Me”… just to name a few. 

I’d love to hear about some of the pieces of music that have touched others. How does God meet you in the cathedral of your heart?  Whatever the song may be, may you enjoy entering into the savoring of His lovely presence.



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Copyright Lynda Chalmers