Dan Burke is an award-winning author, writer, and speaker on Catholic spirituality. He has written and/or edited nine books on faithful Catholic spirituality and is the Executive Director and writer for EWTN’s National Catholic Register. Dan is the president of the Avila Institute for Spiritual Formation, and the creator of Divine Intimacy Radio and SpiritualDirection.com.
I was driving home alone from Mass recently and experienced a rare post-Mass time of silence and reflection. Out of habit, I plugged my iPhone to the charger and, as usual, the car radio began to play a random music selection from my phone. Even though this always happens, I wasn’t paying attention or expecting this because my mind was elsewhere.
Then I noticed the music.
It was an extraordinarily beautiful chant piece. Immediately my heart was lifted to prayer, but I was curious as I didn’t recognize the artist even though I knew it came from my selection on my phone. When I came to a stoplight I looked down at the display and was pleasantly surprised to see the face of Kitty Cleveland. The name of the compilation was also listed: Sublime Chant.
Decades ago I began a serious exploration of prayer. One of the things I noticed in prayer was that the music I regularly listened to would show up in my head as I was trying to pray. By this time in my life the my music preferences didn’t glorify sin or other dark matters. However, the tunes would inevitably stick in my head and were always ready to invade my prayer time.
Early on, as I was thinking through this challenge, I also began to listen to chant. I think I was first introduced to chant as a Protestant when secular stations picked up and popularized a chant album by Benedictine Monks.
As I began moving toward the Catholic Church my interest in chant increased. One of my favorite artists as a Protestant was John Michael Talbot. I soon learned that he had a chant album as well and so I purchased that and began to make chant a more normal part of my life. This continued as I became Catholic and I noticed that this decision helped me to calm my intense temperament.
I also noticed something else that surprised me; chant never disrupted my prayer.
When I say never, I really mean never. Even if I listened to chant prior to prayer, there is something about the nature of this form of music that doesn’t lend itself to the same kind of endless replay as does music in popular culture or Christian music that follows the style of popular culture.
As well, even if a chant piece was floating around in my head, it never distracted me from prayer. As time went on my prayer improved significantly as my music choices included more chant and more toned down Christian music.
Often when folks are trying to develop a healthy prayer life they don’t take into account factors that influence their prayer that are completely outside of the realm of prayer.
If you find your prayer time disrupted by popular music (in style or lyrics), you might try introducing more chant into your play list. If I might make a suggestion, Kitty Cleveland’s Sublime Chant album would be a great place to start. Her voice is exceptional and the particular approach of this album reveals a haunting beauty that draws the heart to prayer.
You can find more about Kitty on her Facebook page.
EWTN Religious Catalogue also caries a few good chant albums here.
I pray that your adventure into sublime chant results in an experience of sublime prayer.