Recently I discovered Apple Music. This is an amazing deal in which I give the good folks at Apple a few dollars every month and they give me access to more than 30 million songs. Well, I went on a bit of a listening binge. I would think of a song and then look it up and play it. In a few hours, I had relived my youth through music and I had begun to examine my faith through the great choral tradition of Bach.
At one point I have to admit I got a little bit fixated. I listened again and again to the Credo of the “Mass in B Minor” and I recalled how those words, “I believe in one God, the Father, the Almighty, maker of heaven and earth, of all that is, seen and unseen,” have shaped my faith. Then I listened to how many different conductors have interpreted those words and that music.
I was astounded by how subtle differences in tempo, dynamics and phrasing bring out different elements of beauty. There are so many ways to sing the same song and every performance is new.
Sometimes I liken our church to a choir performing a great choral masterpiece. We sing sometimes in unison, sometimes in harmony. Sometimes one voice takes centre stage, other times that same voice provides quiet accompaniment. We work at breathing together, blending our voices and paying attention to how our diction communicates with the audience. Sometimes our voices clash in dissonant chords, sometimes they resonate in sweet harmony.
While some of us may prefer certain kinds of harmony, the dissonance is vital to the dynamic beauty of the work. In this picture of the church singing a great masterpiece I imagine God to be the conductor. God is shaping the phrases, God is setting the rhythm and God is calling out different voices to communicate “good news.”
As a good conductor, God helps us understand which elements, ideas and words need to be stressed. God knows that the words bear more than one interpretation. The Latin words “Credo in unum Deum” are usually translated as “I believe in one God,” but they could also be translated as “I trust in one God.”
Our faith calls us to believe in God and it calls us to trust God. The subtle differences in interpretation and translation are important. We are in a time in which our congregations, area and national churches are experiencing change. We are considering several very important reports that will affect our life together. How will this choir stand in the years to come? Where will we perform? What repertoire will God choose for us?
I pray that we will continue to listen for God’s leading, so that our rehearsals are times of joy even as we learn to respond to God’s nudging, and that our performances share our understanding of our creator.
Ken Warkentin is executive director of Mennonite Church Manitoba.