Thursday, December 29, 2005
And now ...
There are two kinds of religious – or at least church – experience. I’m talking personally, of course, and very broadly. But what I’m thinking of is the divide between worship as consumer and worship as service provider. Yesterday I was part of the provision whereby others might have an uplifting or profound experience. I sang, I read a poem; they listened. While I was doing that, my main concern was to put on a good performance. I actually find it risky to allow myself to be carried away when the music, say, is very special – it’s easy to lose the line or miss an entry if you start thinking about God, or experience the sensation which may well be spiritual in essence but destroys concentration. So you sing, or read, or lead intercessions or even preach (for I’ve done that too) and you concentrate on making the end product the very best you can achieve.
Now that is in its own way an offering, if you like, but it’s very different from the intense stillness of meditation. Still you may look, but you’re working – working as if in a gym, if you’re really singing, and that includes the whispery quiet stuff like the Coventry Carol (for 3 voices!) yesterday. And there’s a part of me that longs sometimes to be more passive – to sit/kneel and let others mediate God to me. But then I remember that it was performing which started all this off for me – not sitting reverently in the pews but stressed out of my skull singing at the requiem of an old friend, in the very cathedral we were in yesterday.
I guess it’s like everything else – a balanced diet is needed. It’s too easy for habitual providers to provide all the time. I think church musicians may be especially vulnerable – because a good organist makes such a difference to the worship of others that it’s hard for them to find space to receive. I know priests are an obvious case, but I have a sense that they are taught to make space for themselves as a necessary adjunct to their work. And in these days of shrinking numbers of paid providers there is bound to be increasing pressure on all of us to take an active part in worship.
Perhaps the time of passive pew fodder is ended. Probably A Good Thing too.