A little bit more about music first of all. I seems invidious to have “favourites” among the great composers and anyway ones choice would almost certainly be different on different days. At least 7 days out of 10 though I would look to the music of Jean Sibelius and in particular his clutch of symphonies. Among these “4” has a mysterious, melancholic, perhaps even bewildered and confused feel and is certainly full of questions. “5” which, obviously enough, follows it is full of a strident positivity which I find for me is encapsulated in those last chords between which I can never successfully count the intervals. The final two of them seem to speak of a determined “right then, or “let’s go”, a definite sense of onwards and upwards. His biographers (or at least those that I’ve read, suggest that “4” was written in response to a diagnosis of cancer, and “5” in response to that diagnosis being lifted. I feel sure it’s not as simple as that, things rarely are and certainly not in great music, but I can make the connection in my mind anyway and find it opening up a very powerful spiritual relevance. It’s not that “4” is all about confession or crucifixion, nor that “5” is all about absolution or resurrection, and neither is so simplisticaly programmatic that they can legitimately be identified in that way. They do though awake in me those kind of reflections, thoughts and ideas and if I listen carefully and meditatively rather than simply playing them because that’s how far I’ve got in his symphonic sequence, then they have the capacity to help me to express to myself and perhaps to God theological notions that are too big for mere words.
JS Bach is in the mix, obviously! I have an increasing love for the “Well Tempered Clavier” and play frequently the recordings that I have. My sense of the music of Bach generally is of a resolvedness, of tension released and of life put in order. Others will hear it differently I’m sure, but that’s what I hear and so, particularly in the intimacy of his solo piano music, I find rest and reassurance, a sense of lying down in green pastures and beside still waters that is good for the soul.
So where does all this leave me and my questions about my own spiritual journey. Oddly enough the word that comes first to mind is “reassured”. I think this is going to sound very odd to anyone who hasn’t been as closely involved with the institutional Church – in my case the CofE – as I have been for much of my life, but that’s your problem not mine! I find myself concluding that my faith as a Christian is not defined by, determined by or dependent upon the human organisation which is the Church of England. I may owe a great deal to that institution; I may continue to be a part of it and in my own way even to serve it. It’s significance to me though is much less than it has been and I feel that to be OK. My “eternal soul” (whatever that is!) Is not threatened by my not taking communion regularly or by my being bored and unmoved during a Eucharist. If I find in the music of Beethoven, Bach and Sibelius a greater and more meaningful expression of faith which uplifts and encourages me more than Anglican liturgy – well, so be it. What matters I think is that, in one way or another, I am open to the Spirit of God which moves me from where and what I am to being somewhere and someone better than I am.
There are of course at least three things that “churchgoing” brings though that I’m less likely to find sat at home in front of my CD player. The first (ironically enough) is rhythm. Going to church on Sunday is a kind of discipline, a rhythmic pattern of worship (and teaching) from week to week and indeed through the course of the year. Operating in isolation is much harder in the long or even just medium term unless one has a very disciplined personality, and I can’t claim that. I have music playing while I write this (Barenboim playing Bach’s “Well Tempered Clavier”), but I can’t honestly claim to be listening in the way it deserves, it’s just playing in the background, which is pleasant but plainly not good enough!
The second is something to do with community. There is something essentially communal about Christian faith – Paul’s imagery of the “body of Christ” is of real importance – and I can’t help but feel that a faith worked out in isolation, while nonetheless valid in its own right would be lacking a dimension. That said I think that for the sense of community to be real it has to be based on more than just sitting in the same space and using the same words. There needs to be a depth of sharing, of debating and discussing, even of arguing that encourages and enables real growth and development rather than simply maintaining some sort of tradition and status quo. That is sadly lacking in many churches.
The third is challenge. Now I know that the music is challenging in some ways, but what I think I mean is the challenge of coming up against that with which I don’t agree, or simply that I don’t like and having to deal with it and perhaps learn from it. An isolated faith runs the risk of just working along the line of least resistance and needs the grit of difference and disagreement if it is to be truly dynamic.
So then, where are we? I could at this point set out some resolutions, but I honestly think that to do so would invite failure and guilt, and I don’t wish to become better acquainted with either of those. I could though think about establishing some general directions of travel.
1. I shall for the time being continue in my role as a CofE minister with the Bishop’s “Permission to Officiate”, mostly within the context of the church family to which we belong, together with the odd bits and pieces that come my way as “occasional offices” and from other churches. I shall endeavour to contribute in a creative and positive way, using what gifts I have to the best of my ability, while at the same time, within myself, hanging somewhat loose to the significance of it all for my own spirituality. Acting in that way opens to me the three benefits I mentioned above, coupled with the intellectual and spiritual stimulation derived from a preaching ministry.
2. I shall aim to continue reading, intending to have a Christian book of some sort “on the go” on a continual basis. I shall also consider an ongoing programme of personal Bible study.
3. I want to develop my interest in and knowledge of classical music. This in part from the perspective of simple enjoyment, but also exploring the notion of a kind of meditation founded on proper listening. I hope this might become a means of personal prayer and worship that feeds my own spiritual life and thus enables and resources my ministry. I’m not at all clear how this will work – we’ll see!
I guess I could add to that a broad intention to keep this aspect of “the blog” going, not because I think others might read it – if they do that’s fine, and I only ask that they don’t judge me too harshly. I think it might be a sort of journal or diary which it might be interesting / amusing / instructive to refer back to from time to time.
So that’s what I’ll do!