Saturday, July 30, 2016

Music, a Cathedral and the life of the Spirit

18th Sunday in Ordinary Time

A Festal Choral Evensong 31 July 2016

The most fundamental task that confronts anyone who follows Christ is to try to give some account of his or her faith.  We believe in the absolute love of God for the world; we believe that this ultimate reality, the mystery of Being itself, points us toward love and demands we live in accordance with love.  We are dazzled into wonderment by the realization that love is at the core of all that is, and that love is the reason and the meaning that anything exists at all.

On the Sunday when we farewell our Director of Music, it is serendipitous that in the Second Lesson we hear St Paul (1 Corinthians 14:1-19) who, while talking of spiritual gifts, alludes to musical instruments, to the nature of sound, and to the pivotal role of the mind: “I will sing praise with the spirit, but I will sing praise with the mind also.”

That is not a bad verse to remember when we talk of the life of a Christian and of the place of Cathedral music and the life of our Cathedral.

Drawing on Paul, I offer this hunch, namely that our response to the love of God is a primal and intuitive response to beauty.  

One philosopher has argued that the very first effect and sign of this is a musical stir in the depths of the soul.
“A kind of musical stir, of unformulated song, with no words, no sounds, absolutely inaudible to the ear, audible only to the heart.”[1]
He has noted that the musical experience causes us to see and that “we receive a transient and incomparable knowing, a vision, a fleeting revelation.”[2]

These are heady claims and bold assertions but they are a theological foundation for the importance of music in our cathedral life.  Music is our response, however barely formulated, to the beauty of God.   The Cathedral music carries us and trains us in that response; it extends us always – as it must.

For me a simple example of this can be the choir’s chanting of the psalms: there are moments when the psalm takes on new life in the chant and the match of one’s reading in accord with that chant creates something new, a spiritual awareness that is freshly grounded and differently known.

On this afternoon we give thanks for the music of this Cathedral, the gifts given and the life of the Spirit in this place: “I will sing praise with the spirit, but I will sing praise with the mind also.”

[1] Jacques Maritain, Creative Intuition in Art and Poetry (New York: Pantheon Books, 1953) p.301.
[2] Loc.cit. p.309.

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