I seem to have been learning a lot this year; or perhaps I have been coming to understand things that I only knew before. If you’ll excuse the franglais, I am beginning to connaitre things that previously I only savais. In the process, several disparate things are beginning to join up. Take this, the end of an extremely rambling comment on someone else’s journal (a good couple of months ago, I must admit – this post has been a long time in the writing):
That said, from the comments above it does appear that it can be a useful exercise for some people, and at the moment I am trying very hard to remember that what works for me may not work for someone else, and just because something doesn’t work for me doesn’t mean it won’t work for other people. But that’s another story.
This is the other story. If you like, this is the first story, because I have been thinking about this for a while, whereas I only realised that the comment above could be applied without redaction to either issue when I read that particular post and the comments. Things are joining up.
I started thinking about this around Christmas, when somebody updated a Farcebook status to read something like: ‘I wonder what Carols from Kings would be like if you added a worship band?’ I contributed little to the subsequent discussion other than some rude remarks about John Rutter, but things happened in my head.
Now, the Nine Lessons and Carols works for me, just as it is. Trust me. The music works, the readings work (Authorized Version or no Authorized Version, but I do like the cockatrice); the bidding prayer takes my breath away. It works for me in a way that drums and arm-raising never have. Now, you can look back on my life and say ‘this is because X, Y, and Z’ – which will include but not be limited to the fact that this is what I grew up with – but this does not make it any less true. This works for me.
It is only recently that I have come to appreciate the converse of this: that drums and arm-raising work for some people in a way that the Nine Lessons and Carols service never has. That, when they say this, they mean it: that it is true. More importantly, that there is room for both of us and room for both our traditions. That I can express my spirituality through early twentieth century Anglican liturgy, and all manner of choral music. That other people can express their spirituality through lively movement. That, although the one doesn’t work for them and the other doesn’t work for me, neither of us ought to stop doing what works for us. That there is room for both of us.
I will tell you what would happen if Carols from Kings suddenly sprouted a worship band: it would stop working for some people. Some other people would suddenly understand what it was all about. And you can write your own Daily Mail headline.
Things work for me in a way that they do not work for you. Things work for you in a way that they do not work for me. In short, YMMV. (O internets, how great is ur wizdmz!) We find God in different places: how obvious. We knew that already, surely? But still it happens. In every tradition, there arises sooner or later a tacit or spoken assumption that everyone who doesn’t do it Our Way is DOIN IT RONG. Every tradition, I say. (I should point out that my examples all come from the rich battleground of Christianity, this being what I have come across in my own experience thus far. I am convinced that other faiths could provide their own examples, but I rather feel that it is not my place to do so.) There is, in one camp, an assumption that all who do not say mass facing the altar are little better than heathens. In another, that a choir that includes females in any capacity is not a Traditional Choir. Or, ‘move around! stop worrying about what your body does! stop being self-conscious! if you’re self-conscious you can’t be God-conscious.’ No. I only half-believed then, and I do not believe now, that my self-consciousness was a fault, to be cured by more leaping around. It was a manifestation of my discomfort with that style of worship.
That style of worship did not work for me. And that, my friends, is absolutely fine. And if my style(s) of worship do(es) not work for you, that is also fine. If you have found one that does, hold on to it.
Do not get me wrong. I am not suggesting for a moment that you should never try anything new. Quite the opposite: never be afraid to try anything new. But, if you try something new, and it doesn’t do anything for you, for heaven’s sake don’t feel guilty about it – and don’t believe anyone who thinks you should, because This Is The Right Way. It is. But it is the right way for them, and it may not be for you.