God Meets Culture, the writing home of Michael J. Klassen

September 7, 2012

Why The Pines Of Rome Whisper God’s Existence

Atheism has become  nouveau chic. Just look at the list of celebrities who have added their names to its burgeoning rolls: Woody Allen, Dave Berry, James Cameron, Jodie Foster, Bill Gates, Billy Joel, Barry Manilow, Keanu Reeves. To find your favorite trend-setter, click here.

Yesterday, CNN posted an interview with apostle of atheism Richard Dawkins.

“I don’t think that religion has anything useful to teach us,” he explains. “One of the main reasons why people are religious is because they’re persuaded by the apparent design of living things.”

While eschewing religion, the self-described “fairly militant atheist” still considers himself a “cultural Christian.”

Admittedly, I cannot debate Richard Dawkins on the finer points of science. Or even its more general points. And while Dawkins would easily be able to discern flaws in my reasons for believing in the existence God, I  hearken to one proof:


How I Encountered God And The Pines Of Rome In Southern Colorado

Yesterday, I spent half the day driving home from Taos, New Mexico after a four-day spiritual retreat. In order to keep myself from falling asleep at the wheel, I decided to listen to some classical music.

I know, you probably think “classical music” is spelled “Zzzzzzzzz.” But I’ve played the violin since I was a child, and certain pieces bring back a flood of memories (which helps keep me awake on long drives home).

Back in the day, when my fingers were much more limber than they are today, I thoroughly enjoyed playing The Pines of Rome by Ottorino Respighi. Even if you aren’t acquainted with the music, you might recognize it because filmmakers have lifted segments for movie scores on numerous occasions.

But driving the desolate roads of southern Colorado, the final movement spoke to my heart. This happens almost every time I listen to it. Somehow, Respighi knew how to build a musical piece to a climax like no composer (contemporary or classical) I’ve ever experienced. His ending builds and builds and builds—to the point that my heart can hardly stand it. But then it builds more.

Yesterday, as the music hit its climax, my heart felt like it was about to explode. “Thank you God!” I shouted without even thinking. There was no other way to release the pressure. Suddenly, I felt enveloped in a sense of transcendence. But I’m not alone. Experts in classical music acknowledge the profound conclusion to The Pines of Rome.

How can science explain the transcendence so readily present in music? It can’t. Our hearts yearn for touching God. Is it subjective? Yes. Does that make it any less real or present? Not a bit.

He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the human heart; yet no one can fathom what God has done from beginning to end. Ecclesiastes 3:11 (NIV)

Fortunately, even when we don’t believe in God, he still believes in us.

What songs or music evoke a sense of transcendence in you?

Michael J. Klassen is a freelance writer and co-pastor of The Neighborhood Church in Littleton, Colorado. He still plays his violin on the worship team at church when he isn’t preaching.


  1. It was nice to see the e-mail for this in my inbox!,… I didn’t realize how “dry” some unmitigated “ordinary topics” can become!,… I’ve been trying to “find” the typical re:atheist quote/comeback which categorizes the “mind” as being “a good (something?) but a bad guide(?)” (perhaps this is one of the words I’m looking for),… basically identifying a definite function for which the mind IS superb, but also how poorly suited it is for determining some other things,…

    Unfortunately, modern man has overly emphasized the mental function, and trusts its limited abilities far beyond their actual capacity to deliver broad integrated truth,… observed “facts” can be arranged and rearranged easily enough to “prove” lies (and so on), that are often leading to slanted conclusions revealing one’s (perhaps unacknowledged) predilections and biases… Music naturally transcends the concrete mind’s basic functions, so it provides a great example and experience of “something more”,… (sometimes for better or for worse!),…

    Comment by Georgie-ann — September 7, 2012 @ 1:09 pm | Reply

  2. Btw,… I have lots of “favorite songs” and pieces of music,… but I have to credit a later piece of Beethoven: (Beethoven’s String Quartet No.15 in A Minor, Third Movement), with my being perhaps almost resurrected from the living dead while listening to it during a difficult time,… the strains of the strings so deeply reached into my soul, connecting with me and bringing me forth with them,… and “touching God”,… (-:

    I believe the “story” is that he wrote it as a hymn of thanksgiving for a healing that he had later in life,… whether he was blind at this point, I don’t know,…

    Thank you, “Mr. Beethoven!”

    I’m playing it on you tube,… it still brings tears to my eyes and heart,…

    Comment by Georgie-ann — September 7, 2012 @ 1:29 pm | Reply

  3. edit: I said “blind”,… should have said “deaf”,… and he was,… according to the you tube comments,…

    Comment by Georgie-ann — September 7, 2012 @ 2:02 pm | Reply

  4. Actually, I just located the quote that I was vaguely remembering: it’s more metaphysical than I remembered, and I suppose an atheist might agree with it just as well,… “Mind is a good servant, but a bad master”,… I think I had re-interpreted it in the sense of it being a good way to understand where the mind works well, in putting together information, details, plans, and carrying out tasks, etc,… so it could be considered a good “navigator” (in the issues of life), IF it is following the directions and goals of carrying out the plans and purposes of revealed “wisdom”, which comes from a more transcendent (higher) realm,… on its own it is not necessarily a good “compass” or guide, being rather easily misdirected or side-tracked, and without even realizing it,…

    Comment by Georgie-ann — September 7, 2012 @ 8:10 pm | Reply

  5. Exultate Jubilate by Mozart. One of the most sublime acts of worship imaginable. Schubert’s Mass in B flat minor. Pretty much any piano piece of Chopin’s. Mozart’s Sinfonia Concertante for violin and viola. 🙂

    Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue. Even The Beatles. Music to me splits open string theory via sound and creates that sense of awe that allows us to begin to touch the holy.

    Comment by Linda — September 7, 2012 @ 11:23 pm | Reply

  6. […] Sometimes, when I read comments from atheists belittling my faith—like I quoted in last week’s post—my initial reaction is to strike […]

    Pingback by How Big Is The God of Islam? « God Meets Culture, the writing home of Michael J. Klassen — September 14, 2012 @ 6:22 am | Reply

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