Organs and Organists: Emissaries of the Infinite

Around 800 AD, the organ was pressed into service during Christian worship and it has never looked back. Just sort of more than all the other instruments the organ’s range of sounds, from infinitesimal to infinite, reflect the infinity of God and the universe. One NPC member told me “the organ opens my soul” while another said she loves the organ loud because “I don’t just hear it; I feel it in my body”. Personally, I love the sound of a haunting flute stop hovering above a quiet accompaniment, filling the sanctuary with a hush of quietude.

To achieve these kinds of sound goals organists, like all degreed professionals, undertake professional development to grow their skills and knowledge. It will be my privilege this year (partially underwritten by NPC) to study in the UK and France, playing instruments in Westminster Abbey, important churches in Paris, and in Alsatian villages (organs from the early 1700s); on previous trips we have played the organs in St Peter’s in Rome and at Versailles.

In playing these instruments from so long ago we become able to focus on reproducing actual sounds of music from as early at 1500, to really understand and duplicate the spiritual musical expression of the last 500 years. I look forward to sharing all that I have heard and learned as we worship together in late July. See you then!

Lent, Introspection,  and......Beethoven

The season of Lent is a particularly deep time of year where we go inside to reflect on our lives,  thoughts,  emotions. In the process of truly being with them, in all their ups and inevitable downs, we have the opportunity to come, inwardly and outwardly,  to our own personal resurrection.  

There is no better composer for us at this season than Beethoven.   Although his work is thought of as dramatic,  bombastic,  impulsive,  Beethoven himself was a very inward person who had on onset of deafness in his late 20s.   During this Lenten season I will be sharing a number of the slow movements from  Beethoven's piano sonatas as the prelude.

These beautiful and deeply-felt pieces communicate a deep, deep thoughtfulness and quietude and create an introspective tone whereby we, too may become quiet and move into our own Lenten reflection.    

Finding the Hand in the Darkness

Maya Angelou said, “Do the best you can until you know better. Then when you know better, do better.” This can be applied to so many of life’s circumstances, but it can also be applied to our understanding of God and how we practice our faith in the world.

We have a tendency to think that because God is constant, that our ways of understanding God must also be constant but that is not at all true and I believe it can cause us to limit our faith, especially in times of trial or confusion. We allow for this kind of growth in our intellectual, emotional, and social lives with ease, yet for so many of us, we struggle to extend that same cycle of grace, reflection, and renewal to occur in our spiritual lives. My hope is that through this monthly space, we can explore how to find those places in our faith and discipleship journey where we may be stuck; holding on to understandings or beliefs that suited us well when we were children or teenagers, but no longer fit the reality of our experiences as young adults, parents, empty-nesters, and seniors.

On February 17th I preached about what it means to regard ourselves as “blessed”, offering that when we choose to call ourselves blessed only when we have received an award or money or other mark of our own greatness, that we are, consciously or unconsciously, linking God’s love for us only with our success and prosperity. This is the opposite of what Jesus proclaimed. Jesus was clear that God sits most preferentially with the poor, the outcast, the grieving, the oppressed, and the ill. I challenged us to strive to seek ways that God is calling us “blessed” in the middle of dark times, when we feel most alone, when we are on the verge of hopelessness. And make no mistake, that is an extreme act of faith. When we pray and pray for an outcome we don’t receive, when we experience the injustice of sexism, racism, homophobia, and classism, when we struggle to find a job or save a marriage that can’t be saved, we can certainly feel as though God is ignoring our pleas.

And this is where we must explore our understanding of God and how it informs our faith. The most simplistic message of our Christian tradition has been rather transactional: Believe in God, do all the “right” things and God will reward you. Yet even Jesus experienced that this is not how God works. Christ prayed the night before his arrest that God would “removes this cup from me” in Luke 22:42. Jesus prays that what is about to happen will not happen, that God would stop it. What he gets, in verse 43, is “Then an angel from heaven appeared to him and gave him strength.” God granted comfort, but did not intervene in the circumstances.

The promise of God is one of love and connection. Whatever happens, happens. What God assures us is that the divine Spirit will be with us, bolstering our spirit, comforting our broken hearts, grieving our losses, and standing in equally righteous anger at our unjust experiences. This is not to say that what we pray for does not happen or even that miracles cannot occur. I know too many people who have experienced that to deny their possibility. Those possibilities, while hoped for, though are not what we have been promised. Instead, we are promised unconditional love and a place in the beloved community. We are promised that God will hold our hand strongest when we are sitting in the dark. And that is Good News.