The consummation of the swallow’s wings

I had trouble focusing my attention during church today. It wasn’t the fault of the singing, which was heavenly – the moment the choir broke out into a glorious rising Sanctus, Sanctus, Sanctus, I could feel my breath swept away – or the fault of the sermon, which was much-needed and well-delivered. Sometimes these days just happen; I wake up on the wrong side of the bed, or I’m too focused on everything I’ll be doing that afternoon and week, and my attention keeps drifting from God. I confessed my sins and took communion, then returned to my seat for the blessings and the organ voluntary.

The organist began playing the first familiar notes of “Wachet auf, ruft uns die Stimme”, and I couldn’t think of anything else. Nothing. The same melody, constant and unchangeable, wove through and around itself in an eternal golden braid, so beautiful that even its beauty disappeared into its perfection. This is sacred music, I thought to myself afterward, and imagined what it would have been like to enter a church as a peasant at the time it was written, too poor for the luxuries of daily devotions or written scriptures.

Perhaps the experience would be a bit like when I first listened to Philip Glass’s Satyagraha, sitting on a bumpy bus weaving through the hill country near Jerusalem. I felt torn between the desire to close my eyes and listen to the music forever, and the desire to share that perfect experience with everyone I knew. That’s what I want my response to God to be – not an evangelism driven by fear or compulsion or obligation, but an outpouring of radiant joy, joy so pure it drives out all pride and fear.

If God contains all perfections and all truth, I don’t doubt that it’s echoes of God I hear in music this perfect and true.


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