Mystery and Silence
An extract from a sermon for Trinity Sunday:
This week I received the Concert programme from Warwick University. It reminded me of the excellent pre-concert talks at where a musician reflected upon their task and the piece they were about to play. A pianist once described their playing of Beethoven in this way: ‘I know that I am touching a mystery here. I am struggling to release that mystery as I play.’
Worship, too, is something that is performed. The words we say and sing this morning – the creed, the readings, our intercessions, the hymns, even these words and the silences between them, are like a musical score: only in the performance, in the doing, do they come alive. And we realise that however exquisite the words on the page, the musical notation in the score, however honest our intentions, our enactment will not be perfect: it will be incomplete or inadequate in some way. Our worship always falls short of what it proclaims. Our art is always provisional, imperfect.
On Trinity Sunday, we realise the impossibility of ever doing God justice by talking about him. We ask too much of language when we expect it to carry this profoundest mystery of all.
Perhaps what the preacher on Trinity Sunday should be saying is that there is nothing he can say. And when we cannot speak, we must not speak. On this holy ground, we can only be silent. It is not something that Anglicans are good at! We are reminded of EM Forster’s damning phrase “poor chatty little Christianity” or the challenge of Rowan Williams at the recent Hay-on –Wye literary festival – “A Church that took God more seriously would be moving in and out of silence … a lot more than we seem to be doing”.
Trinity Sunday should make contemplatives out of us; people, that is, who are not afraid of the demands of silence, who are as ready to be as to do, who are at home not only with earthquake, wind and fire but also with the still small voice. Religion, if it is anything, is about the practice of the presence of God, about discovering and discerning the signs of that presence in life. It is about exploration and awareness, about finding meanings and making connections, about celebrating what is yet to be in the face of what already is. To do that, we need to learn how to be quiet, become more present and attentive to life, to see what is there, and love what we find.
One thought on “Mystery and Silence”
From my perspective James you are describing worship as an artistic exercise. The second paragraph of your blog is as good a description of the artistic process as I have ever read.