Salisbury Cathedral – photo credit: Wikipedia

CHURCHWARDENS, parish administrator and priest have been enjoying a series of summer jollies – touring church sound systems! I wonder how, or if, the clergy in the cavernous spaces of our mediaeval cathedrals were expected to make themselves heard by those at the back?

I’ve lost count of the number of clerical reports I’ve read about the frustrations of church sound systems! We’re hoping that our tour of other churches will guide us towards a first rate new system come the autumn. We’ve seen some encouraging signs, and enjoyed each other’s company and the churches and people we’ve visited. And I, for my part, have been reflecting a bit upon the business of “speaking” and “hearing” in churches, whether with the aid of a good sound system or a bad one.

A good sound system is capable of amplifying a terrible sermon just as a bad sound system can deprive people of a good one. But speaking and hearing in churches, as in life generally, cannot be just about sermons or public acts of worship. What we seek both to communicate and to receive is “fullness of life” – and much as I love the Church, fullness of life is about so much more than what takes place in churches.

God saw that it was good

Terrible sermons lose sight of life’s fullness being celebrated out there in the big wide world, in millions and millions of people, places and traditions, sacred and secular. How many really want to hear the exclusive, limiting assertions of the “all knowing” and the self-satisfied? Not as many, I think, as those I come across daily who want, with God, to celebrate life. “And God saw that it was good”.

Good sermons remind us of the kind of world view that Jesus (and other great spiritual teachers) celebrated; that there is good to be found everywhere if we’ll only open our eyes and unstop our ears; that seeing and listening involve some kind of effort on our part (insist on sitting “at the back” – of anything, anywhere – and you can hardly expect to feel involved in what’s going on “up front”); that we’re sometimes persuaded that someone is dead when really they’re just sleeping; that praying on street corners so that others can have sight of how splendid we (think we) are is a meaningless idiocy that causes most thinking people to shut their eyes tight and flatly refuse to hear anything we have to say.

The worth-ship of life

What message do we want our sound systems to carry? What kind of life do we want to be mouthpieces for? Do we recognise that our acts of worship and our spiritual teaching and learning are about focusing on, training a magnifying glass upon, the glorious gift of life that every human person has been given? Does Baptism take place only in churches? I don’t think so. I think it’s happening everywhere, every day, in all of us. Is Holy Communion celebrated only in churches? Again, I don’t think so. What happens in churches magnifies and celebrates what’s happening everywhere, every day, whenever people “take bread and drink the cup” – there the God of Life is to be found and enjoyed. So “holy communion” isn’t exclusively Christian any more than the charisms of love can be confined to only one kind of human person (amongst the billions of kinds of persons in earth and heaven). Is the Word of God being spoken only in our pulpits? I don’t think so. I think the Word of God is being spoken by the supermarket cashier who takes the time to “hope you have a great day”.

What, given the best church sound system in the world, do we really want to say and pray, and be and do, bearing in mind that “whatever you did unto the least of these my brethren you did also unto me” ?

PS – I’ve just read Fr Richard Rohr’s meditation for today. Recommended, here

2 thoughts on “HOW SHALL THEY HEAR?

  1. Had a lot of emails waiting for me when I woke up this morning, and as I was plodding through them I found myself singing “How shall I hear that majesty” rather than the standard “How shall I sing”! The new sound system will be good, and I like all you’re thinking about wholeness (did you know ‘holy’ and ‘health’ came from the same word? – of course you did you’re so clever) and fullness of being on the blog today. 🙂

  2. Thanks Rachael. “How shall I hear that majesty?” I shall sing that one today. How shall I hear? Yes, I think I did know about ‘holy’ and ‘health’ being linked … but it wasn’t in the forefront of my mind. That’s the thing, isn’t it? We need reminders. We need each other. And it’s not just some of us that need reminders. It’s the human condition. It’s all of us. So a double thank-you 🙂

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