Thursday, 4 February 2010

Creation and evangelism.

I went to Evensong last night at a local church; not Nearest Church, where I've been attending morning services, but another one.

It was good to have some sung psalmody, and indeed the Magnificat and the Nunc dimmitis sung congregationally as well. I'm not very good at singing these without music dots and it's hard to do in a huge church with 10 people dotted around it (any English person walking into a church full of strangers will sit as far from all the others as seems reasonably possible and this is horrible for singing together), but I went, and it was good.

What I didn't like was the sermon.

I cannot tell how much the priest was preaching to the evangelicals I know exist among that congregation, and how much he believes of what he said. The main thrust of his sermon was that we should value, cherish and care for all of God's creation, because the awe and wonder it can inspire in some people is an important tool for evangelism. His view of human arts -- architecture, music, poetry, and flower-arranging (his example, not mine) -- is also that these are to be kept, to be honoured, because they may be useful in evangelising the unchurched. Before the service, during the announcements, the same priest was talking about friendship and community outreach in the same terms, stating that the hire of the hall to a local group was good not only because it brought in income, but because it facilitated a new set of relationships which might be a fruitful field for evangelism.

I am not one to put a huge stock in literal interpretation of the Bible, as any long-time reader will know. But the Old Testament reading, Genesis 1.1 - 2.3, seems quite clear to me. The passage contains the words "God saw that it was good" no fewer than six times, and then adds "God saw everything that he had made, and indeed, it was very good." Not "it was good because it made people see God" or any of that. Just, plain and simple, God saw that it was good.

Do we need more reason than that?

It seems to me that means and end have been confused.

It's true enough that people may be drawn to faith through their wonder at the beauty of creation. Surely the sun and moon are beautiful and may remind us that God is God; much of my sense of the holy is grounded in sheer awe at the natural world. But surely also the centipede is created by God and therefore is also good, even if to most humans it seems repulsive. Surely even the rat and the louse are God's creatures, regardless of our revulsion. Are they less good than a waterfall, in God's eyes rather than in our human context? Truly the stars sing of God's majesty, but so do the grasshoppers. Either might bring someone to consider the Creator behind the creation, but they do not somehow fail in their createdness if they don't. God made them and saw that they were good.

It's true enough that people may be drawn to faith through the observation of human-created artefacts...grand cathedrals, concert halls and the concerts within them, shuttles that fly to the moon, poetry that sticks in one's mind, a child's scribblings on the back of old envelopes. Indeed, music has been and, I suspect, always will be an important part of my own journey to and in faith. It's a lot more complex than "listening to or singing the music leads to belief in this or that doctrine" and I suspect that most paths are winding, most journeys are complex. There's no denying that the creations of human beings can glorify God and that sometimes people may be receptive to that. But if a cathedral fails to inspire someone, should it not have been built? If a piece of music falls on deaf ears, either spiritually or literally, should we condemn it as bad because we cannot conceive of a use for it? Context is important, purpose is important, but to reject all that does not fit our human-defined contexts would be a grave error.

It's true enough that people may be drawn to faith, or to church, through their relationships with others. Again, this has certainly been the case for me. Where would I be today without a kind word here, a bit of quiet understanding there, the hands that caught me as I stumbled, kept me from hitting the ground and helped me keep my balance until I found my feet again? Where would I be today without those who continue to offer me support and guidance? I have encountered people who somehow bring light, and I have wondered what makes them shine so brightly. But are those who help me, those who show me love, somehow more worthy in the eyes of God than those who are indifferent, or may even hurt me in their fear and brokenness? I don't think so. Taking a less personal approach, is a bishop a better person than someone who works at a supermarket? Is a hardworking father who pays his taxes, donates to charity, spends time with his family and volunteers at his local church somehow more Godly, more valuable, than the homeless, frightened refugee who sneaks in halfway through the service to pocket as many biscuits as she can before the wardens notice? No! All these are made in the image of God. All these are God's dearly-beloved children.

I attempt to serve others not because I wish to influence them into thinking or behaving more like I do, but because I love them, or because even if I cannot find it in myself to love them I believe that God loves them. I am human and this is complicated and difficult but I do try to eliminate in myself any expectation of reward for this: love does not entrap.

I pray, not so that others might see or know of me praying and feel that they should too, but because I have something to say to God (usually "Help!" or "Thanks!" or "I don't understand!" or "I love you!") and I believe God just might have something to say back, if I can but listen. I sometimes delight in praying together with others and sometimes find it difficult, but my prayers are prayers, not some sort of social propaganda.

I write and play music as part of service to others but also so that God might hear it, and so that others might explore their faith through music as I have done, or if they so wish, join me in the most authentic form of prayer available to me. As a musician involved in church liturgy I do hope that others will use music as a route to worship and prayer, and I aim to facilitate that, but never to force it. As a teacher I try to give people the tools of my art, to empower them to find their own creative voice, but I know full well that I cannot make anyone choose what to do with those tools or whether to use them.

I sing of my sorrows and joys, frustrations and triumphs, struggles and wonders, complaints and gratitude. I sing my confusion and pain, and my love and praise, not to change others to do my will, but to reconcile my human will to God's divine love and mercy, justice and majesty.

"Natural" wonders, created artwork, and the love we can feel for one another -- these are all precious gifts from God, and they are to be valued and cherished. To my mind, using them with the intent of manipulating others to be more like ourselves is not worshipful, but idolatrous.


Anonymous said...
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Song in my Heart said...

Sigh. I do dislike having to delete spam comments.

it's margaret said...

Yes --it's sometimes difficult to be a filter! --Don't let it get to you, because then that's idolatry!!!

Your pensive qualities are such food to me Song. Thank you.