Empathy and love of neighbor is at the heart of Christianity and also a theme of some great music and literature - To Kill a Mockingbird is the classic example. But I was thinking of it this week when I watched an old rerun of "Buffy, the Vampire Slayer."
The mere mention of that show (or any work by Joss Whedon) is sure to inspire nods of recognition of his genius from rabid fans, looks of derision from the uninitiated, and shrugs from the majority of the population. You can guess my bias in that continuum, but the show is a great guilty pleasure of mythology and philosophy in a story that turned the traditional vampire plot on its head. The young blonde girl doesn't twist an ankle and get eaten; she's the strong heroine of the story.
At any rate, in this particular episode, Buffy prevents a classmate from committing suicide. He is depressed because he feels invisible and lonely, ignored by the popular students, and burdened by personal pain that no one notices. Rather than offer the typical platitudes and comfort, however, Buffy responds with this monologue:
"I was wrong. You are an idiot. My life happens to, on occasion, suck beyond the telling of it. Sometimes more than I can handle. And it's not just mine. Every single person down there is ignoring your pain because they're too busy with their own...If you could hear what they were feeling, the loneliness, the confusion. It looks quiet down there. It's not. It's deafening."
Her speech reminded me of a scene in Victor Hugo's novel commonly known as "The Hunchback of Notre Dame." The priest's brother observes him in a moment of extreme emotion, and Hugo depicts his reaction:
"...he knew not with what fury that sea of the human passions ferments and boils when it is refused all egress; how it gathers strength, swells, and overflows; how it wears away the heart; how it breaks forth in inward sobs and stifled convulsions...The merry scholar never dreamed of the boiling, furious, and deep lava beneath the snowy brow of Etna."
Music can express and expose those emtions within us. As a congregation and as Christians, we are obliged to open our ears and our eyes to those around us, in their joy and in their suffering. When we sing a hymn, think of our voices blending; listen to each other; notice how our shared music erases the divisions among us.