Sometimes it just has to be said! Glory to God!
And in saying it… (not deciding to say it and then trying to mean in, but voicing it because it is in you fighting to get out,) despite whatever else is going on, suddenly the world is new and different. The troubles of a moment ago are not resolved, the sources of pressure and anxiety remain unchanged, but something is radically different. A balance has tipped, a pattern is revealed or a sense of hope is born… however you try to describe it, the world is not measurably altered, but despite everything else, something at the core of our being is then vitally in-tune.
In the book ‘For All That Has Been, Thanks’, by Rowan Williams and Joan Chittister, the focus of reflection is ‘Alleluia’: that universal expression of Christian praise to God, which seems to transcend language. It centers on reflections that no matter what the situation, it is still the appropriate response due to God.
‘Well, now, hang on a minute’ -I hear you say through gritted teeth… and yes, that’s what I feel too -which is one reason I read the book -and recommend that you do, too: for a thoughtful and accessible discussion on the idea. It might just ungrit your teeth -it did mine.
Theology requires spending a lot of time with an open mind -which can be as emotionally painful, as an open wound is physically painful. We human animals all prefer discrete, concrete facts and harbour many preconcieved spaces in our worldview into which to fit those facts. Theology is not comfortable like that, it demands to be tested against life, to be applied constantly to what we think we know about God and about Existence, in order to reveal our preconceptions and misconceptions.
So to suggest ‘Alleluia’ or ‘Glory to God’ is a right response in any situation -sounds barking mad. At the very least, it demands the question: What is it, that I presently cannot see, do not know, may not understand… which could possibly make this outrageous claim true?
Well I don’t have all the answers, and I certainly don’t have the answers to that. But what I do know, is that in some very strange situations, my spirit cries out ‘Glory’ ‘Alleluia’ despite the suffering of my mind or body. And when I allow my voice to declare ‘Glory’ ‘Alleluia’… then it is as though in naming God’s Glory, its presence is truly tangible. Christian worship at its best can sometimes be like that.
<sigh> On a more mundane and earthly level, although I am convinced Glory is always due to, and given to God -it is often impossible to percieve from where we are standing, amid suffering, humiliation and mess…
So although, when yesterday, College students crammed round the piano in the music room; to sing a freshly penned Advent song; hearts were gladdened and the glory of God was momentarily present as we sang a new song to the Lord…
Still, when performed later with the other carols, in an echoey dinner hall, to a tinny Casio keyboard… it was almost completely devoid of substance.
Like incense that had already been burnt up as an offering, and which could not be rekindled on human demand… the fragrance was gone, the timing was earthly not heavenly, it was a weak shadow of a former reality: like a twice-used teabag.
And then, after that re-heated offering, when someone kindly declared ‘I think Jemma’s song deserves a clap‘… well, have you ever seen anyone try to escape a room by recreating the scene from the Wizard of Oz when the wicked witch of the west shrinks and shrivels up inside her own clothes? Yes? Imagine that in a cassock and you’re halfway to where I was, only without the hat.
P.S. Towards the end of the traditional carol-singing, whilst my two-year old daughter was running around playing with her teddy bear in front of us singers, her loose-fitting elasticated trousers slid suddenly down round her chubby knees and tripped her up… I took it was a sign of touching solidarity… ‘yes God, that’s what I’m like’… but as I picked her up -I was still very glad that I had said ‘Hallelujah’ and for a moment been aware of the glory of God.