Friday, October 6, 2017

Our Many Voices

As I work my way through the brilliant, mischievous Screwtape Letters with my little class at my little church, I find myself encountering a repeated theme worth examining.

As Clive Staples Lewis would have us understand it, our God cares about individuality and personhood.  There's something about the uniqueness of persons that drives the Creator of the Universe to allow us to be distinct within ourselves, while still and at the same time yearning to be conformed to God.

It's one of the things that drives the demonic Screwtape simply batty.  He can't grasp how you can be part of something, and yet simultaneously maintain your identity as an individual.  In Hell, after all, the goal is for the stronger to devour the weaker, subjugating the weaker will to the more powerful, until everything is washed out by the grey controlling sameness of power.

But God...or the "Enemy," as Screwtape likes to call God...desires to light us up with unconditional love, yet with each of our souls turned in its own unique way to the service of love.

What, I'd found myself wondering, would that look like?  What image or metaphor supports that kind of diversity in unity?

In a recent evening in my household, conversation turned to sixteenth century British composer Thomas Tallis.  As much as I miss the bustle and clamor of my kids when they were tiny, I have to admit, it's also kind of cool that my offspring will suddenly start talking eagerly about sixteenth century British composers.

I love Tallis, and the piece in question was Spem in Alium, a choral work of astounding beauty and complexity.  It's a forty voice motet, which means that...from what is a remarkably simple beginning...the piece gradually adds parts until there are forty voices all going at the same time.

Meaning, not forty people divided into soprano, alto, tenor, baritone and bass sections.

A forty member choir.  Forty different voices.  Forty different parts, each distinct from the other, interweaving with one another.

It's both beautiful and blindingly complicated, as if our little fellowship were to gather on a Sunday, and there in the hymnal was your part...yours be sustained while the people on either side of you sang something different.

That might seem unattainable, but on a certain level, we're already doing it when we become part of a living church.

Each of us, in our own distinct way, trying to live in harmony with one another.  Each life, distinct, yet part of the same song, with harmonic interplay so complex it dizzies us with delight.

That, I think, is what Screwtape found so frustrating, and what it means for us to be both one in purpose and yet still very much ourselves.