During the Season of Advent I’m leading a couple of musical meditations in preparation for our celebration of Christmas. This is something I used to do in previous parishes, where the musical tradition was less strong than it is at St Mary’s. With such talented and committed choir members and musicians, it seemed rather unnecessary to use recorded music rather than live music-making!
But there is a great variety to music of which the English choral tradition is only a part.
For me the concert hall and the opera house are important places in my spirituality. For others it will be attending a sports fixture or going to a gig. But since I was about 8 it has been classical music that feeds me. My spiritual director – the person I see regularly to talk about life, prayer and ministry – encourages me to see music as a gateway to God. Like anything, of course, it can be an idol – and if you’ve seen my CD collection you might realise that there have been moments of “collecting idolatry!”, but at its best music takes me to a place that words alone cannot. You may wish to ponder what it is that does that for you – what interest, hobby, sport or pastime – is a gateway to the divine.
In mediaeval and renaissance music there is the idea of the cantus firmus – a pre-existing song or tune – that composers used as the basis for a more complex, polyphonic, composition. It is often a secular song woven into the fabric of a much richer piece. It can be an enjoyable task to spot the cantus firmus in such a work. In this season of Advent and in the Christmas story, with its focus on the coming of Christ, the Word made flesh, we are encouraged through prayer and discernment to see the presence of Jesus as a cantus firmus in our lives, a thread of divinity upon which we compose our lives as if a piece of music. The cantus firmus is never a straight-jacket any more than God wants to constrain or control our lives. But Christ, the cantus firmus of our souls in the basis on which we are invited to shape and base our lives and prayer is the way we listen for the tune.
May we sing God’s praise this Christmas, but may our lives be a perpetual song of praise throughout the coming year.
Wishing you all a very happy Christmas.
The two Advent musical mediations are on Sunday 4th and Sunday 11th December at 6.30pm.