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One Equal Music 1

Written by Philippa White, posted on Sunday, March 29, 2020

Music manuscriptOne of the great glories of cathedral worship is the rich musical tradition on which it draws – half a millennium of sacred music written across Europe and beyond, sung regularly in cathedrals, chapels and churches across the country. In Christ Church we often talk about the ‘beauty of holiness.’ We use the phrase from J.S.B. Monsell’s great Epiphany hymn to express the theology that we bring the best of all that we have to God – in architecture, in music, in flower arrangements.

All this beauty is our offering to God, our ‘sacrifice of praise,’ but it is also an offering to our city and county, our university and all our communities: offered to God and freely shared to lift the hearts and minds of those who gather in worship.

In these strange times, when we are unable to meet together for worship, it is more necessary than ever to lift our hearts and minds – to remind ourselves that God is greater than the difficulties of our present time, and that even when God’s glory seems hidden, God is still there. In this blog, updated on Sundays, we seek to offer something of the beauty of holiness as a spiritual support in these times.

We begin, not with music, but with the prayer written by John Donne (1572-1631) which pictures the music of heaven:

Bring us, O Lord God, at our last awakening into the house and gate of heaven, to enter into that gate and dwell in that house, where there shall be no darkness nor dazzling, but one equal light; no noise nor silence, but one equal music; no fears nor hopes, but one equal possession; no ends nor beginnings, but one equal eternity: in the habitations of thy majesty and glory, world without end.

When all around is uncertain, when the rhythms of our lives are disrupted and everything that had seemed solid now suddenly feels very fragile, this prayer directs us to the one thing that is constant: God. God’s heaven, like Godself, is a place of rest and of constancy; where there are no sudden changes, no shocks, no disruptions, no disappointments. Heaven is light and music, not to startle or dazzle but in which we can rest, and, resting, contemplate the God who meets us in beauty and contentment.

The service of Compline (Night Prayer) includes a prayer for rest which brings that idea of heaven intimately to our own homes and our own night’s sleep:

Be present, O merciful God, and protect us through the silent hours of this night, so that we who are wearied by the changes and chances of this fleeting world, may repose upon thy eternal changelessness; through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Perhaps you would like to listen to the beautiful setting of Donne’s prayer by WH Harris and reflect on God’s eternal changelessness.