I referred the other day to the circumstances under which I fell off my donkey – realised the truth that lay behind the liturgy I was involved in, the prayers and music which had become familiar because I was a church musician. And perhaps you could argue that I was thus affected by music – which yes, I believe to be God’s highway, a powerful agent for conversion. But I believe there was more to it, and that this “more” has continued, alongside music, to inspire and develop my own spiritual journey.
The picture is of George Douglas, once Dean of Argyll and Provost of the Cathedral of The Isles and an extraordinary person who introduced me to the Episcopal church as more than a setting for my singing. Nowadays I don’t find myself looking for octogenarian Victorians, but I think much of what he embodied for me is still important in bringing people to God. So what are these qualities that I consider more effective than pew papers?
OK. Integrity. Certainty of faith. Prayerfulness. Self-knowledge. And hand in hand with that lot, humility, kindness, conveying the awareness that here is someone whom life has not always treated gently but who has turned his/her own experiences to an advantage in helping others. And above all that the sense of other, the realisation that this is someone who has experienced God, who continues a relationship with something beyond the senses in the quiet of prayer and meditation.
Such people are not necessarily in the conventionally-pictured mould of sainthood, but when it comes to the Communion of Saints they are a part of it here on earth. There are lay people who come close, but I’m of the opinion that unless someone has the disciplined lifestyle which allows them to develop, they’ll be like the rest of us – distracted, well-meaning but failing, part-time saints who “could do better”. That’s why I don’t like to think of the clergy of this generation filling their time with paper-work, creating lovely liturgies for their dwindling flocks while pushing less tangible pursuits to the sides of their lives.
Just like the rest of us, in fact.