When the Holy Spirit Plays Cello in My Soul

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Bronwyn Lea -Cello in My Soul3

Of all the instruments in an orchestra, the cello is the most soulful. I am sure of it.

Perhaps I only believe this because my mom always loved cellos. Perhaps it is that the melodies most often played by cellos lend themselves to lyrical loveliness. Whatever the reason, hearing a cello’s voice in a piece of music has always captured my attention and imagination. I breathe slower. My heart rate slows down. I listen better.

It was no surprise to anyone that when the time came to choose music for deep breathing and relaxation as I gave birth, I queued up YoYo Ma playing Bach’s Cello Suites and Julian Lloyd Webber’s Cradle Song. (Julian is the cellist brother of the Broadway composer,) Chances are good these will be my deathbed music requests, too.

It made complete sense, then, to read that of all the instruments, the cello is the most closely related to human voice. Its rich, vibrant sound closely mimics our vocal chords, and its range of pitch resonates with human voice too: its lowest note corresponds to the bottom range a basso profundo can sing, while its highest could keep up with a coloratura soprano. The soulful resonance listening to cello music is, quite literally, a real vibration in my body. It feels like a voice singing because, in sound wave terms, it is.

It was a stifling hot summers day, some years ago, that I settled gratefully into the hug of a blue couch in an air-conditioned room and listened to Beth Moore explain how listening to the Holy Spirit could be compared to understanding resonance frequencies in music. There were certain notes, when played on a cello or a piano, which felt like they “hummed” inside us. So it could be with the Holy Spirit, she said. Sometimes, we don’t so much hear a voice as feel a “hum” as we read. It resonates with our soul. It’s a different type of voice, but we find ourselves vibrating with the energy of it. Perhaps breathing differently. Certainly, paying attention in a way we weren’t before.

And this made perfect sense to me. Perhaps listening to the “still, small voice” wasn’t so much trying to identify the sound of an unknown instrument, as being akin to learning to pay attention to the resonant frequencies of a cello. Perhaps I don’t notice it at first, but as my ears tune into the sounds and rhythms of the music, it becomes easier to pick out the voice of the cello. Sometimes I can “feel” the cello in music before I actually hear it. I listen more closely until I can make out the melody, and then, with deeper breath, I find myself smiling: “That’s why I liked that piece so much,” I think, “there was a cello woven in there.”  

And perhaps this, too, is how the Holy Spirit plays cello in my soul. His voice can be discerned in the way it resonates in my chest: words which were just words begin to hum with conviction and passion and challenge. Conversations which might have been just conversations echo and vibrate with meaning and direction. Moments which might have been every day, Chronos, ticking-of-the-clock moments, become significant, Kairos, pay-attention-to-this-present moments.

And so it is that music appreciation becomes spiritual formation: in the slowing down, the leaning in, the careful listening, and the giving of myself to the gentle resonant frequencies of His voice.

Deep calls out to deep, and my soul rejoices.

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Bronwyn Lea
Bronwyn Lea is a South-African born writer-mama, raising little people in California and raising eyebrows at bronlea.com. Fueled by grace, caffeine and laughter, she writes about the holy and hilarious in life, faith and family. Connect with her on Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest.
Bronwyn Lea
Bronwyn Lea
  • So so beautiful, Bronwyn. I didn’t grow up paying attention to the cello–I only started when I moved to Taiwan and learned about YoYo Ma. 🙂 I love what Beth Moore said and how you wove all of this together.

    • I do so love YoYo Ma! I got to hear him a few years ago and it was the most mesmerizing concert. Love to you, Idelette. And thank you for your leadership and example in wanting to hear His voice’s resonance and amplify it for women.

  • Olivia Butz

    Thanks for this! My understanding of listening to the Holy Spirit has broadened over the past few years and this is a beautiful metaphor for this work.

    • I’m so glad this struck a chord (ha! So many musical metaphors!) with you.

  • My daughter played cello in high school, and that’s when I began to love and appreciate its sound. Lovely piece you’ve written, connecting this to the voice of the Holy Spirit.

    • Thank you, Prasanta. I would so love it if one of my children wanted to learn the cello (insert wistful sigh here!)

  • Michael Wall

    This fits nicely with what I was reading this morning in April Yamasaki’s book “Sacred Pauses” in the chapter “Making Music” which speaks of music as a spiritual practice.

    • 🙂 what a wonderful book!!

  • AMY C. Carlisle

    So wonderful, Bronwyn. I played the cello from elementary to high school, and have always loved its soulful sound. Every fibre of my musical being deeply resonates with this post, especially the part where Beth Moore explains “how listening to the Holy Spirit could be compared to understanding resonance frequencies in music.”

  • Chalcea Malec

    Incredible analogy! True and beautiful as it is informative. This one will stick.

    • Thank you, Chalcea. Beth Moore’s illustration has stuck with me for years, too: probably the most helpful thing I ever heard about discerning God’s voice!

  • sandyhay

    Classical music is where I run to when my soul needs to settle. If I close my eyes I can hear the cello. I can even see the Philadelphia Orchestra’s cello section play, then add he violas, then the violins. Such peace. Thank you

    • Yes!! I’m so glad this *resonated* with you too! ❤️

  • Former band geek and now mother to band geeks, oh, how I love this metaphor for hearing the voice of the Spirit.

    • You were a band geek? Just thinking of that makes me smile. What was (is?) your instrument?

      • Only the geekiest of all band instruments: the clarinet.
        My kids have all played wind instruments as well, but have really leaned more towards jazz: a couple of trumpeters, a bari-sax, a tenor sax. We jam together when we get the chance.