Archbishop Philip Freier
2 November 2023
In a world of abundant words Christians must hear the word of God as the resonant and life-giving melody that sustains our journey with Christ. Stillness, self-reflection and meditation on the words of Scripture are all elements of our listening to God. Like it is with any listening, the competing noise readily distracts us. Our attention is too easily claimed by our desire, our curiosity and our anxiety. Communities of Christians have responded to these realities in a variety of ways.
Whether “driven by the Spirit” or by his own seeking for solitude, there are important times for Jesus when being away from the towns, other people – even his disciples – was important. Finding a place of quietness and separation from the ordinary concerns of life shaped the movement of the desert fathers and mothers of the third century away from the cities and towns of Egypt and Syria into the surrounding desert wilderness. These pioneers have shaped many similar monastic and other movements that seek to imitate Jesus and seek out a quiet and lonely place where they can better pray and experience communion with the Father.
Plainly enough, Jesus was also highly engaged with the people of his time, meeting them in all sorts of circumstances into which he brought the healing and transforming power of God. It is wonderful how Christian service and acts of love and compassion still cut through the self-centred “noise” of our modern lives and connect us with God in Christ through the Holy Spirit. It has been a great delight this year for me to participate in two “student voice” events for high school students from our Anglican schools. I sense something of the same impetus amongst these young people who are eager to speak about their faith and the social transformation they see arising from it. I’m impressed by the faith that these young people have embraced on account of their school participation in worship and chaplaincy as well as through what they describe as the faith informed “ethos” of their schools.
Music, both soft and loud, also serves to carry the “life giving melody” of Christ’s proclamation to us in worship. A loud organ or high-volume band certainly overwhelms the other sounds that are around us and, along with hymnody, can bring us to a point of clear focus on God. It is likely that personal preference is divided on the question of how loud the music is but there is no doubt that a powerful, even visceral, experience of God’s presence is the outcome for many. It would be interesting to understand if the seekers of solitude also prefer the quieter melodies.
However it works for you, and I’m sure there are many other things that could be added, learn to take the journey away from the worldly things that hold your focus so that you might find the truly sustaining presence of God. “But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.” (Matthew 6.6)