A few weeks ago, I sent my mother a playlist titled “Soundtracks for Prayer.” Curated by me, the playlist contained several film scores so moving I deemed them perfect to listen to while in quiet contemplation. My mother, a student of theology, replied to my email with, “Wow! I never would have thought of this!”
These scores are not from Christian films, nor do they hover over scenes of overtly spiritual practices. (One melody announces the quiet arrival of a cyborg in 2014’s Ex Machina, while another fills the moment Tom Hanks contemplates his recent rescue from a deserted island in Cast Away.) While such music was not designed to be used in the Christian practice of prayer, these melodies—with their soaring violins, soft piano, or echoing French horns—transcend a rigid categorization of use simply because they may awaken a thought or feeling uniquely recognizable to the listener. For some listeners, this may be a reminiscence of a lost love or the scope of life’s possibilities. For Christian listeners, it may reflect the expansiveness of Christ, whose mysterious glory often defies the power of written description alone.
In popular culture, the “Christian” label attempts to organize works, images, or figures into distinct categories: Christian movies, Christian music, Christian television, etc. While such categorization may refer to a piece of media’s overt religious themes or evangelical ideologies, the separation of non-secular versus “secular” media often stems from an effort to surmise the intent of the media’s creators. As a result, we may mistakenly believe that true artistic reflections of Christ can only be found in works deliberately inspired by a Christian ideology.
Take “Christian Lofi,” for instance. Search the term on YouTube and many videos featuring rotating playlists of simple, relaxing beats appear. While some of these videos contain familiar Christian worship music turned into chilled-out, instrumental melodies, most are almost indistinguishable from “secular” lofi playlists: soft and mellow, free of words or even any distinct connotations other than something one may faintly hear from a coffee-shop speaker.
So, what makes Christian lofi different from non-Christian lofi? Perhaps the perceived differentiation goes back to the idea of creator intent. However, to relegate the nature of Christ to something which can only be expressed by a Christian author discounts the permeating power of a God who is “over all things.” Christians should be encouraged to know that the manifestation of Christ’s divinity does not discriminate between “Christian” and “secular” art and thus serves as affirmation of God’s expansiveness.
In her book Walking on Water, (Christian) author Madeleine L’Engle writes, “To try to talk about art and Christianity is for me one and the same thing, and it means attempting to share the meaning of life, what gives it, for me, its tragedy and glory. I don’t mean to water down my Christianity into a vague kind of universalism . . . but neither do I want to tell God (or my friends) where he can and cannot be seen!”
If all art, be it music, films, paintings, books, or more, is an act of storytelling about the human condition, what could be more holy than examining the stories we receive from art through the lens that God created humanity in his image? When we ruminate on this truth, we are blessed with the opportunity to examine how a work of media interacts with Christ’s story through humanity’s expression of its own condition, regardless of artistic intent.
What makes Christian lofi different from non-Christian lofi?
A few weeks ago, the popular YouTube channel Lofi Girl lit up the Internet when the video’s iconic animated image of a young girl studying by a window suddenly began to shift. Over several hours, incremental changes began to bring previously unremarkable elements of the image into focus, such as the window of a distant building. Before long, the image evolved completely to introduce a boy sitting in front of his own window, lost in thought and listening to a new stream of “synthwave” music, which is now available on the Lofi Girl channel.
While music categorized as “Christian lofi” may be an obvious means to interact with faith-inspired art, the music of Lofi Girl—and her surrounding lore—can equally serve as the kind of story which points to the nature of Christ and his interaction with humanity. As the image of Lofi Girl shifts to reveal her male counterpart, who shares in a love of similar music, it calls to mind the splendid nature of human connection, an ideal particularly uplifted in the New Testament. As the Apostle Paul writes in his letter to the Corinthians: “For we were all baptized by one Spirit so as to form one body—whether Jews or Gentiles, slave or free—and we were all given the one Spirit to drink.” Though Paul here specifically explores the power of the Holy Spirit to unite all manner of human beings under Christ, Christians can both ascertain and appreciate that the fictional story of Lofi Girl also reflects a divine connectedness: that though we may come from different backgrounds, something in our spirits pulls us towards a mutual awe. In the case of Lofi Girl, this awe is found in the quieting, revitalizing nature of calming music.
This is not meant to disparage a lofi playlist created specifically with Christian listeners in mind, nor should it be read as a claim that the nature of Christ exists in all media. (Many pieces of media actually reflect our sinful nature, yet even those are sometimes worthy of curious discernment rather than knee-jerk condemnation.) Still, the truth that there is “no such thing as secular” should be seen by Christians as an immense gift—for it affirms God’s ability to be known, found, and experienced through all things.