Don't Stop Believin', Pt. 1

Updated: Dec 16, 2021

Mary didn’t waste a minute. She got up and traveled to a town in Judah in the hill country, straight to Zachariah’s house, and greeted Elizabeth. When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the baby in her womb leaped. She was filled with the Holy Spirit, and sang out exuberantly,


“Blessed are you among women and blessed is the child in your womb! And why am I so blessed that the mother of my God visits me? As soon as I heard the sound of your greeting, the child in my womb leaped for joy. Blessed Mary, who believed what God said, believed every word would come true!”

And Mary sang,

“My soul magnifies the Eternal One, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for God has looked on my lowliness with favor. What God has done for me will never be forgotten; the God whose very name is holy, set apart from all others. Mercy and love flows from the Eternal One in wave after wave on those who are in awe from generation to generation. God’s arm has accomplished mighty deeds; scattering the proud in mind and heart. God has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly; God has filled the hungry with good things and sent the rich away empty. In remembrance of divine mercy, the Eternal One helps the people of Israel according to the promises made to our ancestors, to Abraham and to his descendants forever.”


And Mary remained with her about three months and then returned to her home.


Luke 1:39-56

Involuntary Musical Imagery is a phenomenon that allows music to occupy our minds even after it is no longer being heard. While we may be more familiar with the terms “earworm” or “sticky-music,” we can all probably remember a time when we experienced Involuntary Musical Imagery. It may not have been music we wanted to embed itself within us. There are adults all over the world right now who will shudder simply at the mention of the words, "Baby Shark." This sticky music can be extremely annoying—the kind of music we wish we could turn off—and yet, it was there, lodged in our brain. Sometimes we choose the song and sometimes the song seems to choose us. In his book Musicophilia: Tales of Music and the Brain, neurologist Dr. Oliver Sacks details the very real connection between music and our brains. Sacks points out that brain scans of patients who are audibly listening to a song are identical to the brain scans of the same patients who are only remembering the song—playing it in their head, so to speak. Did you catch that? Whether we are listening to our favorite song or simply replaying it in our minds, the auditory cortex—the part of the brain that processes most of the sounds we hear—lights up. That kind of information begs for an experiment, don’t you think? It is the Christmas season, after all—the most musical time of the year. From overplayed and annoying holiday earworms, that may or may not be sung by Mariah Carey, to timeless and treasured Christmas songs, that may or may not be sung by Mariah Carey, this is a season when we are overwhelmed with music.

So what music is overwhelming you right now?

What song is buried so deep inside your bones that you don’t even have to hear it? Bring one to mind. Think of your favorite Christmas song. Don’t sing it. Just bring the song to the front of your mind. Now, I’m going to ask you to spend a few moments in silence singing your favorite Christmas song in your head. Don’t move your lips or use your voice in any way—not even to hum. You are only going to sing within.


Have you chosen your song? Okay, start singing.

And stop. Were you able to sing and hear the song? Isn’t that fascinating? No vocal cords vibrated. No ear drums transmitted sound. No one else heard what you heard. That all took place in your mind. No headphones, no speakers, no Spotify—just you. Most of us probably take this phenomenon for granted. Earworms and Involuntary Musical Imagery are just the stuff that happens in our brains whether we want it to or not—right? We accept that music—even annoying music—has a way of getting inside of us and taking up residence. We know that songs attach to our memories—or is that our memories attach to songs? Whatever the case may be, music and memory become enmeshed and entangled within us. But lest we begin to think this is all just a mental exercise, researchers have also documented the impact music has on our bodies. In his 2018 TED talk entitled “Your Brain on Music,” neuroscientist Alan Harvey detailed how the simple act of singing together can even increase the levels of certain hormones in the bloodstream. Both oxytocin, the hormone associated with empathy, trust, and relationship building, and cortisol, the hormone that regulates our metabolism, immune response, and ability to handle stress, are increased when we sing songs together. Dr. Harvey concludes that making music together “increases our sensitivity to pain” and functions as a “social glue that clearly enhances our sense of mental well-being.” In Musicophilia, Oliver Sacks shares numerous case studies and stories revealing the medicinal power of music. Specifically, how it “can animate people with Parkinson’s disease who cannot otherwise move, give words to stroke patients who cannot otherwise speak, and calm and organize people who are deeply disoriented by Alzheimer’s or schizophrenia.”


Don’t miss that.


According to Sacks, music—our songs—hold the power to animate those who cannot otherwise move, to give words to those who cannot otherwise speak, and to calm and organize those who are deeply disoriented.


I can’t help but wonder...


...is this why Mary sings?


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