There I was, all set up to talk about football and the Brontës, then I find the studio full of women singing. And aren’t they brilliant?
On this morning’s BBC Radio 2 Chris Evans Show Gareth Malone brought 20 of the 100 Military Wives choir (whose single Wherever You Are must surely go to number one for Christmas) to sing. There was a great atmosphere in the studio, but my Pause for Thought was in danger of missing the mood as well as the mark. So, I tried to bring the ‘choir experience’ into the script – before saying something about the honesty of genuine prayer.
The starting point was last Sunday’s dual experience of Haworth and Anfield:
Last weekend I had a bumper culture experience. On the Sunday morning I did a baptism and confirmation service in Haworth – the church where the Brontë sisters wrote their moody books. It was a good gig (as they say) in which several adults took up their responsibilities in the Christian Church. (I was back in Haworth the next day and it was freezing. I’d have called ‘Wuthering Heights’ ‘Brass Monkeys’…)That afternoon I went with friends to Anfield to watch the Liverpool vs Manchester City game – the first time I’ve been back to Anfield for over twenty years. It was amazing. OK, the result wasn’t quite what I’d hoped for, but the atmosphere – and Liverpool’s performance – were just fantastic.And what was it that linked the two events – Haworth and Anfield (and singing in a big choir)? Well, it was something to do with a shared experience, a sense of awe, and very vocal expression of support. OK, 50,000 screaming footie fans make a different noise to 100 worshipping Christians – and they use different language sometimes, too(!). But, they both involve being caught up in something that’s bigger than ‘just me’.
(And this is where the collective experience of singing in a choir comes in. For most of the Military Wives there had been little or no previous experience of singing collectively. Every child everywhere should get the opportunity to experience learning a musical instrument and playing in an orchestra or singing in a choir.)
One of the things I do every morning is read poetry that was written nearly three thousand years ago. I’m not a freak, but the Psalms mix up the cries of individuals with corporate songs of praise, lament, hope, fear, shame, joy… and just about every other human emotion. With no holds barred, the poets shout at God, complain about their lot in life, curse their enemies, question everything about why the world is the way it is, and yet usually hold onto the fact that God holds on to them. It’s wonderful and edgy stuff – and often reminds me that we are free to tell God the unvarnished truth about how and what we feel.
OK, Liverpool didn’t quite respond to my vocal urgings to put the ball in the net more often. But, that’s OK. Cos our prayers in the morning in Haworth weren’t about forcing a result; it was enough just to tell God the truth. And then move on.
I guess this is particularly pertinent – in an unplanned way – to the experience of the military wives in the studio this morning. Being separated for months on end from your husband or partner who is serving in dangerous territory in Afghanistan must from time to time evoke fear, loneliness, frustration and anger. Yet many people think that prayer is something pious – telling a rather disconnected God what he wants to hear… whereas, in fact, prayer is supposed to be the free, uninhibited and honest expression of real emotion and reflection to a God who understands… because he has been here. (Which, of course, is what Christmas is all about.)
I hope Chris Evans’ promotion of the Military Wives’ single will be enough to get it to number one for Christmas. It would be a great achievement. Especially as it involves ordinary people (not stardom-seekers) doing something as ordinary as singing together and creating something that is greater than the mere sum of its parts.
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