The name for this blog comes from the Hebrew word merchab. Merchab is a masculine noun that appears most often in the Psalms of the Hebrew Scriptures. It means a broad or roomy place, an expansive place, a wide place. Read more...

February 8, 2009

God's Concert

The choir stands tiered on risers curved across the platform in front of a mighty pipe organ that rises to the ceiling. The choristers are dressed in floor length crimson cassocks with white ruffles at the neck. They sing words based on Psalm 68, beseeching, “Let God arise.”

There are two hundred of us seated in pews on the main floor and in a balcony that stretches around the room. On my left and my right intricate filigreed stained glass windows rise from floor to ceiling.

This is not a church service. The building, though once a house for sacred worship, is now a concert hall. The audience has each paid thirty-five dollars to sit and listen to choristers accompanied by a baroque orchestra ask God to “Let mercy and truth go before Thy face.” We do not pray, sing hymns, recite creeds, or hear a sermon. At the end of each piece of music we applaud.

For a hundred years the walls of the building in which we now sit have listened patiently to the prayers and praises of people of faith. The stained glass windows have witnessed rites of passage, celebrating birth, marriage and death. These walls have served as containers for words of wisdom, hope and trust. Sometimes they have held the despair, doubt and deep confusion of people facing life’s inevitable tragedies.

But these walls no longer serve as containers for the spiritual yearnings of a community drawn together by faith. The days of sacred worship in this place have ended, replaced by advertised concerts sponsored by wealthy patrons and supported by the ticket sales of loyal fans.

The choir pleads, “Let God arise. Let his enemies be scattered.” Is it the “enemies” of God who have caused this place of worship to become a centre for the arts? Has this building been diminished by abandoning its once glorious role as a house of prayer to be replaced by its new function as a vehicle for music performance?

Or is it possible my vision is too small?

Must I confine God’s work in this building to the years when it was consciously intended to draw people to acknowledge God’s presence? Might God be as active here this evening in this concert as God will be active in the sacred service I will lead in the morning in a building that remains intentionally dedicated to the presence of the Divine?

Perhaps in the transcendent beauty of this evening’s music, the Mysterious Presence I name “God” is equally at work as in my morning prayers, hymn singing, preaching, and breaking of bread and sharing of wine. Perhaps, if I have eyes to see, in the selfless dedication of these musicians to their art and in the gift of their talents to the audience, I may perceive the vitality of that creative energy I name as “God.”

Can my vision expand to embrace the possibility that God may be hidden here as much as I believe God is hidden in all of life?

There is no doubt, the people in this audience have stepped for a moment away from the normal grasping, clutching, demanding routines of their lives. They have entered a gentler place in the presence of this music. They have opened to the possibility of another reality beyond the daily demands of finding their way through the complexities of life.

If hearts have softened here, how can I believe God is absent? If spirits have opened for a moment, how is this different from what I hope occurs in the services I conduct in my life in the church? God’s ways are not necessarily confined to my tidy little picture of reality. God’s ways are mysterious and beyond my knowing. When I try to lock God up in my little church box I lose sight of the wonder and majesty that are the true nature of God and to which this music will point those with eyes to see.

This concert challenges me to open my eyes more fully, to see more deeply to find God where I might least expect to find God. I need to renew my vision and respect the work of God’s Spirit even where that work may not occur according to my prescribed requirements. I need to understand that there are witnesses to God of which I know nothing. God is active in places I might never perceive. My vision needs to grow. My faith needs to deepen. God is present wherever there is beauty.

In his book Living Vatican II: The 21st Council for the 21st Century the Catholic writer Gerald O’Collins, S.J. quotes the famous dictum of Thomas Aquinas who wrote, “Every truth, no matter by whom it is said, comes form the Holy Spirit.” O’Collins then goes on to draw the conclusion that

Since goodness and beauty belong necessarily with truth and since one cannot imagine the Holy Spirit inspiring truth but being unconcerned about goodness and beauty, one could legitimately expand the dictum and declare: ‘All truth, goodness, and beauty, no matter by whom they are expressed, come from the Holy Spirit.’ In broader terms, wherever there is truth, goodness, and beauty in a culture, there is the Holy Spirit.
This is the true Christian Spirit, open to God’s work, affirming God’s work wherever God’s work may be found and in whatever form it may occur.


Rob Holloway said...

The queation perhaps is just because men closed this House of the Lord and reopened it as a place not to worship spiritually, does that mean God left this House?
I'd think not?
Certainly He would be sad but oh how joyful the ANGELS ARE WHEN PRAISE MUSIC rises in these halls again.
Who are we to set a limit of where or when God will be. Yes, folks paid monies to see a concert and did not realize that they would be touched by not only the music but the wonder of the people before them who built these hallowed halls.
If we believe that the building does not make the church only its people then we should marvel at how Christ can work amoung this diverse group of people who will be touched that night. They came to a concert all right but God was the unseen leader.


Jaqueline said...
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Jaqueline said...

Hi Christopher
I read your blog this evening and want to witness with and affirm the questions you ask in it.
I found myself feeling relief and grateful for your observations.
It is a grief that God who speaks to us so often and manifests such obvious beauty that speaks louder than words sometimes might be missed because of our limits on how the spirit "ought " to speak.
I remember a sermon you gave oh maybe 10 years ago, it was actually about the interest in the New Age movement
and to paraphrase it you basically said that God would not neglect meeting people where they were seeking just because the church has dropped the ball. I feel more secure knowing that a witness of the divine is provided for elsewhere as well as at church. I wonder if a church's health is dependent on it's openness to the diversity of God's witness in the world?
When I could practice openness in the concert and receptiveness I found the music produced a sense of glory and joy within. I really could imagine us all joining with the angels in praise.
Thank you also for an affirmation of what art has to offer in our understanding and experience of God.