On needing to be opened by the wonderful

Help comes
When you need it most
I’m cured by laughter
Mood swings – not sure I can cope
My life’s in plaster (In plaster)

May your mind set you free (Be opened by the wonderful)
May your heart lead you on
May your mind let you be through all disasters (Be opened by the wonderful)
May your heart lead you on

These wounds are all self-imposed
Life’s no disaster
All roads lead onto death row
Who knows what’s after

May your mind be wide open
May your heart beat strong
May your minds will be broken
By this heartfelt song

(and this is a very good description of the left-brain’s need for the right-brain…)

All that music has meant

Possibly my favourite Wittgenstein remark (of at least 20 contenders for that title): “It has been impossible for me to say one word in my writing about all that music has meant to me in my life. How then can I hope to be understood?” (that’s from memory, so may not be word perfect)

I feel the same way, always have. Yet one of the wonders about McGilchrist’s work (I’ll be referring to him a lot this year) is that it provides a way of getting a handle on what is going on. Put simply the form of attention that we give to music is an attention rooted in the right hemisphere, whereas the critical thinking about it is rooted in the left hemisphere.

I think there is a moment in Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance where Pirsig is discussing jazz and gets told ‘man, if you have to ask the question you won’t understand the answer’.

So music for me – and, more broadly, poetry, humour, fantasy, immersion in nature, also worship (liturgy) when it is done right – all these are ways of immersing myself into the more deeply human forms of life; or, to phrase that from the opposite side, they are ways of escaping the tyranny of the discursive, detached, verbal intellect, the left-hemisphere forms of attention.

In a word, music is a major part of how I pray, how I bring balance to my emotional life. Whereof one cannot speak πŸ˜‰

I don’t listen to classical music half as much as I used to, although I expect that to change back again over time. I discover that I really enjoy jazz, and I really, really enjoy live music. At the moment I am discovering the band James – one of their songs will be written up as the ‘song of my sabbatical’ in a few weeks time – but this one is rather good, with a very clever video:

The sadness and the struggle

So…. the sadness and the struggle.

Wittgenstein once wrote, ‘It has been impossible for me to write one word in my books about all that music has meant to me in my life. How then can I hope to be understood?’ That’s something that has always resonated with me. It’s difficult for a non-musician to talk about music, other than to say something like ‘this….’

I’ve always liked doing playlists. Called them tapes back in the day. Here is one, curated for a friend, that I have been encouraged to share a bit more widely. I’ll do a few more as time goes on (that is, I’ll put them on to Youtube – they’re already done!)

This one is about the struggle with God, and the sequence of songs goes through a particular spiritual motion, tension and resolution. It always makes me laugh when I hear believers being criticised for having beliefs that give them comfort. Of course there can be comfort – but there is also sheer terror and relentless pressure when you are accountable to the God of heaven and earth.

Which is why I love Leonard Cohen so much – he really gets it.

Anyhow, enough chunter, here ’tis, if you have a spare hour for listening to God-wrestling.

I want to live alone

A song I’m particularly enjoying at the moment – let the reader understand – but if you think you know why I like it, or even who it references for me, I guarantee that you will be wrong… (grin)

From their third album ”Tonight: Franz Ferdinand” 2009 – new album out soon This is quite a good version, with vocals from a particular goddess πŸ™‚

I wanna live alone
Because the greatest love is always ruined by the bickering
The argument of living
I wanna live alone
I could be happy on my own
Live the rest of my life
With the vaguest of feeling

Wherever you are, Whoever is there
You’ll know that I’ll be here, I’ll be here
Wishing I could be there

So I’m gonna live alone
I’m not saying that our love is the greatest
But I’m in love with you
Wanna stay in love with you
So I’m gonna live alone
Yeah, I’ll be happy on my own
Live the rest of my life
With the vaguest of feeling

Wherever you are, Whoever is there
You’ll know that I’ll be here, I’ll be here
Wishing I could be there

When will I ever learn?

Whatever it takes to fulfil his mission
That is the way we must go
But you’ve got to do it in your own way
Tear down the old, bring up the new

And up on the hillside it’s quiet
Where the shepherd is tending his sheep
And over the mountains and valleys
The countryside is so green
Standing on the highest hill with a sense of wonder
You can see everything is made in God
Head back down the roadside and give thanks for it all

When will I ever learn to live in God?
When will I ever learn?
He gives me everything I need and more.
When will I ever learn?

When will I ever learn?

Whatever it takes to fulfil his mission
That is the way we must go
But you’ve got to do it in your own way
Tear down the old, bring up the new

And up on the hillside it’s quiet
Where the shepherd is tending his sheep
And over the mountains and valleys
The countryside is so green
Standing on the highest hill with a sense of wonder
You can see everything is made in God
Head back down the roadside and give thanks for it all

When will I ever learn to live in God?
When will I ever learn?
He gives me everything I need and more.
When will I ever learn?

Does the church need more cheese?

A question I started to ponder when I came across this video (via Facebook): This is a very attractive vision – people being accepted for who they are, and being celebrated for the same – which surely has something to do with what Jesus was wanting to show. Yes, I know, we need to talk about the reality of sin, and yes, we need to have a mind to only offering up to God the very best of which we are capable, and yes, we need to make sure that what we do is genuinely worshipful and centred on God and not just about celebrating the fluff found in our navels… but even so. I suspect that this is what (some) ‘happy clappy’ worship captures, and to that extent it is holy, and of God. A place of acceptance and peace which is in stark contradistinction to the surrounding culture; a sign of the Kingdom. I wonder whether the intellectual and sacramental has started to obscure the simply joyful, rather than being a servant of it. Which is a way of saying – our cynicism is a sin. Mea culpa.

A short sermon about music (West Mersea Civic Service 2011)

Those of you who read my Courier articles will know that I have a favourite philosopher, who has had a profound influence on how I understand the world – Ludwig Wittgenstein. He was raised in an extremely musical environment as his parents house in Imperial Vienna was one of the most important musical salons in that city; Brahms, Schumann and Mahler were regular house guests, Richard Strauss would play duets on the piano with Wittgenstein’s brother – this is the context for Wittgenstein to write, after finishing his greatest philosophical work ‘it has been impossible for me to write one word in my book about all that music has meant to me in my life. How then can I hope to be understood?’

Perhaps I should stop there… After all, what can be said in a sermon about music? It is rather like trying to talk about God in some ways – every attempt is bound to fall short of the reality, and yet sometimes we cannot but speak and the words have to stumble out of our mouths. Even shipwrecks have their uses.

Our first reading described the musician David with King Saul; here David can play music to soothe the troubled breast of the king – and this is certainly one element of music, as something which can soothe our spiritual aches and pains – bringing harmony out of discord – and yet, there is so much more to music than this.

In the context of this civic service, where we are dedicating ourselves to the welfare of all, we might perhaps call to mind the wider context at the moment. The financial crisis that has been running for a few years now but has not yet run its full course; the environmental and resource crises that are starting to bite as we start to run up against the Limits to Growth; the frankly frightening world context where violent militancy is on the rise. These are so many deep bass notes in a minor key, and we cannot overcome them with a blithe and bland melody. Yet there are ways to harmonise with those movements in a way that makes the music overall something that can be listened to, something which reflects who we are, something which might, perhaps, even heal. There are things which we can do even in this disquieting context.

For even though I don’t have much confidence that our governing classes have much idea about what is going on – one might say that their range of hearing doesn’t go down as far as basso profundo, or perhaps it’s just that they’re distracted by the sound of cats – my trust in God is still intact. In the end it is not for us to be in control – we are not the composer, we are not even the conductor, we’re not even the first violin – I suspect there is a good Trinitarian image there for Father Son and Holy Spirit – but we do have our own parts to play. We do not have to worry about the overall composition, it is not for us to know how the main themes and contradictions will be creatively resolved, we simply have to play our own part as best we can, confident that the creator can redeem any mistakes that we might make – as those marvellous words of Leonard Cohen have it ‘and even though it all went wrong I’ll stand before the Lord of song with nothing on my tongue but Hallelujah…’ For where there is no dissonance the music is in the end bland and boring and, most of all, unreal – and surely the complexity is real, the mournful notes are real – and in the end it is from the real deep well of our suffering that we will draw the refreshing water of joy. That is the trust with which we simply have to press on with the tasks that we have been given to do. And we have been told what we need to do: we are to do justice, to love kindness, and to walk humbly before our God.

So may we commit ourselves this day to making real music together, in the service of our community, following the composition of, allowing ourselves to be conducted by, and being led in our playing by, the One in whom all things are harmonious, the living God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Amen.