Music

Thinking a great deal about music at the moment, under many different aspects, and came across this poem in a wonderful collection given to me by a friend. This is by Rabia of Basra, translated by Daniel Ladinsky:

IT ACTS LIKE LOVE
It acts like love – music,
it reaches towards the face, touches it, and tries to let you know
His promise: that all will be okay.
It acts like love – music, and
tells the feet, “You do not have to be so burdened.”
My body is covered with wounds
this world made,
but I still longed to kiss Him, even when God said,
“Could you also kiss the hand that caused
each scar,
for you will not find me until
you do.”
It does that – music – helps us
to forgive.

If it be your will

I randomly picked up a Vanity Fair the other day, to discover celebrated atheist Christopher Hitchens talking about ‘If it be your will’.

There is a slight irony there. It is at least a possibility that Hitch is unaware of it…

It’s a song I’m finding comforting at the moment:

If it be your will 
That I speak no more 
And my voice be still 
As it was before 
I will speak no more 
I shall abide until 
I am spoken for 
If it be your will 
If it be your will 
That a voice be true 
From this broken hill 
I will sing to you 
From this broken hill 
All your praises they shall ring 
If it be your will 
To let me sing 
From this broken hill 
All your praises they shall ring 
If it be your will 
To let me sing

There are reasons for my lack of posting recently. 
Some time soon I’ll talk about them.

Music in worship: consumption or conversation?

From the May 2011 edition of Third Way magazine:

“…I went on going to church and I think I had the same values, only no longer quite with belief behind them. I went on with church music, which I liked a lot. Religious music still moves me, in a way that I suppose it shouldn’t, if you like. It’s not something that a Christian would think of as religion, but it’s a substitute.” (Professor John Carey)

I think Professor Carey articulates something very important to understand: that it is possible to appreciate religious music (or art or whatever) in such a way as to gain some benefit from it, even spiritual benefit – but this is not the same as worship. I think I would want to describe the difference as being between a consumer of religiously flavoured produce and being engaged in a conversation with something other than our own desires and perspectives. It is the latter that counts as worship, not the former.

Another music meme…

This one originates with the artsy honker, and I think I was tagged on Facebook but I’m not sure…

1.What is your favourite piece of music for congregational singing? Why?
As the question is about music, and not just hymns, I should confess a strong fondness for Personent Hodie, which has several different words available (“God is love, his the care…”, “Long ago, prophets knew…”, “When our God came to earth…”). I first came across it (that I can recall) at a friend’s wedding, and I find it marvellously stimulating and uplifting. I think the WM organist is getting a bit fed up of playing it though ;o)

2.What is your favourite piece of music for performance by a group of specialist musicians within a liturgical context? This might be a worship band or a cathedral choir or just a very snazzy organist or something else entirely, but the point is that it is not congregational singing and it is live music in liturgy.

3.What is your favourite piece of music which makes you think about God to listen to outside of your place of worship? Why? This could be secular music.

4.What is one thing you like about the music at your usual place of worship? Have you told the musicians about this lately?

What will enable this congregation to worship?

Musing on the various hymn/music memes going round, and pondering a way of gathering several thoughts and threads together. The question I want to ask is: what will enable this congregation to worship? The three parts each carry weight:

– what will enable – this is the end purpose in the choice of music (as of other elements) in a service. Will this get in the way, or will it allow those present to engage?

– this congregation – not congregations in general, not other congregations attending at other times of day, or times past or future, but this congregation here and now

– to worship – not be entertained or intellectually stimulated, have prejudices pandered to or preconceptions picked apart, but worship – to come into the presence of the living God in spirit and in truth, in adoration and thanksgiving.

So – a question, not an answer, but I think it’s a good question.

Another hymn meme, and some more good thoughts on music

We care so much about music in worship – and we care because it matters.

Some good thoughts from Tim here, and the Artsy Honker here, and I am shamelessly stealing this CS Lewis quote from the latter, which I love:

“There are two musical situations on which I think we can be confident that a blessing rests. One is where a priest or an organist, himself a man of trained and delicate taste, humbly and charitably sacrifices his own (aesthetically right) desires and gives the people humbler and coarser fare than he would wish, in a belief (even, as it may be, the erroneous belief) that he can thus bring them to God.

“The other is where the stupid and unmusical layman humbly and patiently, and above all silently, listens to music which he cannot, or cannot fully, appreciate, in the belief that it somehow glorifies God, and that if it does not edify him this must be his own defect. Neither such a High Brow nor such a Low Brow can be far out of the way. To both, Church Music will have been a means of grace; not the music they have liked, but the music they have disliked. They have both offered, sacrificed, their taste in the fullest sense.

“But where the opposite situation arises, where the musician is filled with the pride of skill or the virus of emulation and looks with contempt on the unappreciative congregation, or where the unmusical, complacently entrenched in their own ignorance and conservatism, look with the restless and resentful hostility of an inferiority complex on all who would try to improve their taste – there, we may be sure, all that both offer is unblessed and the spirit that moves them is not the Holy Ghost.”

My musical thought for the day: mindless and emotive worship music is popular (in some circles) because it is a corrective to the excessive rationalism promoted (in some circles) by our culture. It might explain the apparent paradox of brilliant IT nerds enjoying near-fundamentalist churches – it brings balance to their force 😉

Here’s the meme, again from Doug, who won’t let me escape…

1. Choose a hymn that you love to hate. It must be in a widely used and current hymn-book.
2. Say why.
3. Tag three people.

An honest answer would be ‘All Things Bright and Beautiful’ but I think that would be too easy. So a possibly controversial one:

1. Make me a channel of your peace.
2. A good prayer set to a difficult tune which is often murdered by a congregation that is unfamiliar with it. What makes it worse is that it is quite often chosen for funerals because people have been exposed to a good performance by a pop star (eg here) and the sentimental level is pushed up to 11. Blech.
3. I tag: Byron, Cranmer and Dave W.

Who or what is worship for?

This is by way of a quick commentary on a video that Banksy has posted (tying in with some conversations that we’ve been having). Here’s the vid:

I would very much want to endorse the second half of the vid, especially the link between pastoral care and the leading of worship (that’s why you can’t have lay presidency – doh!) and the fact that, if you pitch worship towards people who aren’t members, then the worship doesn’t have integrity.

However…

I think the first part of the vid is one-sided (not untrue, just not the whole picture). Who is worship for? That is, what is the centre of gravity? The centre of gravity must be God, otherwise it is not worship, it is entertainment, some form of self-stimulation. Worship must have (MUST) have an irredeemably other, prophetic and even judgemental quality about it. It is a fearful thing to come into the presence of the living God.

It is therefore perfectly legitimate for worship to be found strange, off-putting, weird or bizarre to begin with. If the worship is real, if the Spirit is present, then the worship won’t just be strange, it will be strangely attractive, and people will be enabled to enter into and share in the mystery. This may require that worship does not change with contemporary fads, it means resisting a collapse into worldliness, it means giving a full respect and weight to worship that has been found valid through time, what CS Lewis called ‘Deep Church’.

However… that being said, the speaker on the video does have a point. It is perfectly possible for worship to lose touch with the Spirit through being embedded too far in its own fundament(als). The word that I have found useful for striking the right balance between a worldly trendiness that lacks God-centred integrity, and a broken down ruin that has only memories of the divine glory, is this: enable. Right worship enables the congregation to come into the presence of God. There is no set way of achieving this – all sorts of ways can ‘work’ – it depends entirely on the gathered believers, which is why the second half of the video is spot on.

The question is: what will enable THIS community of believers, gathered together, to worship God in Spirit and in Truth? What will enable them to enter into the great mystery of faith, in a way which feeds their soul and enables them to access spiritual medicine? The answers change according to time and context…

See also:
Tearing Down the Curtain
The Role of Music in Worship