The music of the organ is one important aspect of our worship at St Michael’s. And every now and then Richard, or Robert, or whoever is playing, ‘pulls out the stops’ and makes a glorious, powerful sound, which fills the church, captivates our attention and gives a spine-tingling thrill. Our organists don’t do that all the time, of course. Playing constantly at high volume and intensity would deafen the ears, pain the mind and tire the soul. Contrast is needed between the varied moods, tempi and dynamics which music can offer, so that each can have its powerful effect.
Worship is like that too. To feed our souls and offer the whole of our lives and loves to God we need a variety of styles of prayer and praise. Without joyful, exuberant praise our souls would become stunted and shrunk. But high tempo happiness can’t be the church’s sole diet, if we don’t want our praying to become superficial and trite. Moods of thoughtful meditation, honest lament and penitence also need to weave their way into our worship. That way all of who we are is offered to God, and brought to his healing, inspiring touch.
On 4″ February it was great to ‘pull out the stops’ in our worship with Bishop Michael of Hertford, and enjoy a variety of services, each with a different mood and style. I know the bishop was encouraged to see the range of our worship that day. And many people have said how they enjoyed coming together in praise and prayer around the Bishop. We couldn’t do that every Sunday, of course, just as the organ can’t always be played allegro and fortissimo. But it’s great to have such a worshipping ‘high’ every once in a while.
Now that the Bishop is gone, though, I hope we might reflect a little on what he shared with us. Not just forget about a joyful moment and move on to the next thing in life. I hope we might give his message a bit of thoughtful reflection, now that ‘normal service’ has been resumed. For he said, I think, some helpful and important things.
At the Christingle he invited us to think about how we look at the world. Do we see things in the light of Christ, or are we happy just to see them in ordinary, everyday, mundane ways? For, as he preached at the communion services, scripture tells us how Christ permeates everything that is. There can be no barriers between sacred and profane, politics and faith, secular and religious, if Christ really is all in all. And if we follow this cosmic Jesus faithfully, we can’t ‘compartmentalize’ our own lives, either. Every bit of us, our praying, our earning, our working, our resting, our spending, our serving, and everything in between, comes under the inspiration and authority of Jesus.
This all seemed, to me, to echo something the Bishop spoke of on the following Wednesday. He told the PCC of a yearning for depth within the life of the church. A longing that God’s people might show the world how profound life in Christ really is. A desire that the church might challenge, not echo, the superficiality of much contemporary culture, in the richness of its shared life.
That’s quite a challenge. I wonder how I might let God make my life more profound, or do the same for you. I wonder if we really want him to. Depth can be frightening as well as attractive. Yet no better time than Lent to wade further out into the depths of the water of life. And no better scripture to explore than the deep poetry of the Psalms to do so. For there we find the full depth of the human condition. Every mood of emotion, every mode of prayer: the whole gamut of the heart’s experience. Psalms which ‘pull out the stops’ in glorious praise, and those which echo the pain of hearts broken by suffering and sin. Maybe our Tuesday Lent Meditations, or our Exploring Prayer Morning (10th March) could help you encounter more of the depth of God in the Psalms.
In any case, if you met or heard the Bishop on February 4th or 7th, do take a moment to remember something about his time with us and reflect upon it. May the gift of his time and words not just vanish into the mists of memory, but continue to help us follow Jesus day by day.