Thursday, 30 April 2009

The Revelatory Power of Music

Jim Gordon posted a stimulating blog on Leonard Cohen and our human struggles with love, loss and limitation. Having listened to Leonard Cohen, Live in London, my cursor is poised over the 'place your order' at Amazon. 

He also addressed the issue of the revelatory power of music. I find this a fascinating area and made some responses. As I've continued to think about it, I've looked up some of my jottings on the subject. While being cautious of giving music, or indeed any of the arts, a revelatory authority that it does not have, music undoubtedly has the effect of opening our eyes as well as our ears.

Jeremy Begbie writes of 'some fundamental encounter with transcendence in the creation of art and its experiencing.' Brian Beck says that 'the transcendent quality of music is itself a witness to God in his creation.' And Tom Wright speaks 'of the revelation of God in Jesus and the Spirit moving towards us and meeting artistic integrity coming the other way. Without the first, the artist is in danger of producing form without substance, a classic problem of both modernity and post-modernity. But without the second the theologian and preacher, struggling to hear what the Spirit is saying to the churches, might easily fail to speak the full truth.’

However, Nick Hornby does it for me, in 31 Songs:

'I try not to believe in God, of course, but sometimes things happen in music...When things add up to more than the sum of their parts, when the effects achieved are inexplicable, then atheists like me start to get into difficult territory...When I say that you can hear God in [music], I do not mean to suggest that there is an old chap with a beard - a divine Willie Nelson, if you will - warbling along with them. Nor do I wish to imply that this surprise guest appearance... proves that Jesus died for our sins, or that rich men will have difficulty entering the Kingdom of Heaven. I just mean that at certain spine-shivering musical moments...it becomes difficult to remain a literalist. (I have no such difficulty when I hear religious music, by the way, no matter how beautiful. They're cheating, those composers: they're inviting Him in, egging him on, and surely He wouldn't fall for that? I think He'd have enough self-respect to stay well away.)’  

Monday, 27 April 2009

Easter sermons by Tom Wright

There are three terrific sermons given by Tom Wright over Easter on the NTWrightpage - an unofficial website dedicated to the Bishop of Durham. Especially interesting is, 'Let Beauty Awake', which is a fascinating exploration of aesthetics, and a novel way of looking at the Temple in relation to John 20. 

Wednesday, 15 April 2009

Andrew's Baptism

On Easter Sunday, Andrew, our youngest son, was baptised - it was very special! And I had the privilege of baptising him with David, one of the ministers of the church, and this made it even more special. 

Three others were also baptised, and once again I was struck by the power of story. Each one was different, presented naturally in plain language. And each one, in different ways, was moving and powerful. 

I don't 'do' baptisms in my present role and this is definitely a part of being a local church minister that I miss! 

Susan Boyle on Britain's Got Talent - Wow!

I know that this is fast becoming old news, but I can't resist posting on it. I received an email about a YouTube of Susan Boyle who was auditioned for 'Britain's Got Talent' - not a programme I watch. I was told that I would be stunned. 

It was the way that the whole thing was set-up: the back-stage interview in which she said that as a single 47 year old she'd never been kissed; the answers she gave to the judges questions before she sang, stating that she wanted to be a professional singer but had never been given the opportunity; and the utter contempt that audience and judges made no effort to conceal. And then she opened her mouth, and I confess that it brought tears to my eyes and yes, I was stunned - what a performance! And actually there was something about it that was so gospel. 

If you haven't heard it, then go here and enjoy! When I last looked there were nearly 6 million hits.

Sunday, 12 April 2009

The Servant-Girl at Emmaus (A Painting by Valasquez) - Denise Levertov

She listens, listens, holding
her breath. Surely that voice
is his - the one
who had looked at her, once, across the crowd,
as no one ever had looked?
Had seer her? Had spoken as if to her?

Surely those hands were his,
taking the platter of bread from hers just now?
Hands he'd laid on the dying and made them well?

Surely that face-?

The man they'd crucified for sedition and blasphemy.
The man whose body disappeared from its tomb.
The man it was rumored now some women had seen this morning, alive?

Those who had brought this stranger home to their table
don't recognize yet with whom they sit.
But she in the kitchen, absently touching the winejug she's to take in,
a young Black servant intently listening.

swings round and sees
the light around him
and is sure.

Wednesday, 8 April 2009

The cross

'The cross is the surest, truest and deepest window on the very heart and character of the living and loving God; the more we learn about the cross, in all its historical and theological dimensions, the more we discover about the one in whose image we are made, and hence about our own vocation to be the cross-bearing people, the people in whose lives and service the living God is made known.' Tom Wright, The Challenge of Jesus, p. 69

Saturday, 4 April 2009

Salome- Welsh National Opera

Richard Strauss' opera Salome, performed by Welsh National Opera at Milton Keynes Theatre on Thursday evening, was sensational. I played this a number of times with Opera North, and recall a particular performance in Sheffield, when Rodney Macann, a Baptist Minister as well as a professional singer, sang  the role of Jokanaan (John the Baptist). It was memorable. 

The libretto is taken from Oscar Wilde's play, which is loosely based upon the biblical story, with the emphasis upon 'loosely'. It's one continuous act and lasts about 100 minutes.

The high point was the Dance of the Seven Veils, which included no veils and was understated but absolutely sizzled; and from there to the end, Salome's expressive and ecstatic outpouring over the severed head of Jokanaan. It was strangely moving and exhilarating in a manic sort of way!

The orchestra of huge forces, including at one point eight percussionists, were terrific, and a special mention of Chris Vale, the contra bassoonist who played splendidly.