Music is such an individualised taste. My own tastes are to say the least catholic, ranging from Gregorian chant to heavy rock, though my bank balance has tended to receive the most damage from country–rockers and folk rockers. The genres, too, are slippery: my iTunes account assures me Leonard Cohen is country, whereas I would categorize him as folk. I have not found an adequate differentiation between the two, though I have tended to find ‘folk’ representing, loosely, a more left-wing life-perspective, and country perhaps more socially conservative, more ‘right’. As I write these words I am listening to ‘cow punk’ aficionado Maria McKee (best known for a song called “Show Me Heaven”).
I use recorded music a lot, not so much in the formal eucharistic liturgy in which we share Sunday by Sunday, but in the more flexible ‘pre-liturgical’ contexts of, for example, school chapel services. It comes with a warning, stated or unstated: for some hip-hop may be the apotheosis of human expression. For others the soaring heights of opera draw the heartstrings of heaven. As it happens I like neither of those genres, though some of the great operatic choruses stir my heart, and I consider “The Chorus of the Hebrew Slaves” (“Va, Pensiero”)from Verdi’s Nabucco one of the finest moments in music. The minimalist “Spiegel im Spiegel” of Arvo Pärt, which we will use for the Maundy Thursday liturgy, takes me into the heart of the stillness of God and touches eternity. By contrast my email address will provide a clue to another great source of inspiration that has nurtured my being for around forty years, now (and still does so).
Is faith, then, like music? A matter of taste, preference, choice? In a post-modern world we might say yes—and certainly we should acknowledge that there seems an inexplicable serendipity that separates those who share our faith (and in which form?) from those who do not. I am less inclined to say ‘yes’. There seems to me to be faith that up-builds, faith that trivialises, even faith that is darkly demonic. Our task is to be representatives of the first of these, but this comes only through a life-time of learning. I should be our prayer that we stumble along that learning path, Christ before to guide us. Pray God we may be bearers of up-build-faith, not trivialize-faith.