At just the right time, when we were powerless, Christ died for us..... (Romans 5.6) If you believe God is livingly active in the creation and sustaining of the world, then, it seems to me that now and again we are also likely to catch Him out at His providential being there before us. I've always felt the personal force of that first clause, "At just the right time....." Just now and again in my life, things have fallen into place in ways I didn't plan, couldn't see coming, and even as they happened didn't tumble to their significance then, or the part they would play in this unfolding story that is my life.
The providence of God is both a comfort and a worry. So, I believe God is actively present in His Creation, and therefore in the details of an ordinary life of this one human being amongst billions, on this planet for a human lifetime, in one of any number you can think of galaxies and keep adding zeros? Really? This is one of those thoughts that theologians have never grasped, not for want of trying with big words and bigger and bigger concepts - omniscience, omnipresence, aseity, omnipotence, eternity. But am I really saying everything that happens is God's doing? No I'm not, but I can't get away from those times when the coincidence of time and circumstance in my own life at that time and place, has happened too often to ignore the thought that God was at it again.
I think providence is a tough doctrine to get my head round; but those occasional life coincidences, when "Just at the right time..." a grace unspeakable rescued me, are far too significant to be dissolved in the technical discourse of philosophical theology, cosmology, psychology or epistemology. Which brings me to music, and one evening when music washed across the aridity of a heart that was losing its rhythms, with affections disabled and suffering a diminishing grasp of purpose. Eliot described such pain with searing precision.
What are the roots that clutch, what branches grow
Out of this stony rubbish? Son of man,
You cannot say, or guess, for you know only
A heap of broken images, where the sun beats,
And the dead tree gives no shelter, the cricket no relief,
And the dry stone no sound of water. (Waste Land, II, 19-24)
I've been in places like that. Some years ago, sitting in the home of a special friend, talking out of my own aridity and emptiness, in the background a piece of music was playing I had never heard before. "At just the right time", the kind unjudging words of a supportive friend who understood, were accompanied by background music which flowed like streams into the emptiness, slowly filling the long dry fissures turning them into new rivulets. The music didn't solve all the problems, how could it? But the insistent beauty, the patient harmonies, the composure and assurance, were like the gentle drizzle which slowly softens the surface, making it receptive to the coming deluge. And that's all hope needed. Drizzle!
The music was Spem in Alium - English Translation:
- I have never put my hope in any other
- but in You, O God of Israel
- who can show both anger and graciousness,
- and who absolves all the sins
- of suffering man
- Lord God,
- Creator of Heaven and Earth
- be mindful of our lowliness
Spem in alium nunquam habui
- Praeter in te, Deus Israel
- Qui irasceris et propitius eris
- et omnia peccata hominum
- in tribulatione dimittis
- Domine Deus
- Creator caeli et terrae
- respice humilitatem nostram
Here's Harry Christopher and The Sixteen performing in concert: You need ten minutes to listen to this.The last four minutes are applause!
The tapestry is called Shalom (I) and is a colour exegesis of Iasiah 35 verses 1 and 6. This was worked out of that remembered experience of grace drenched music.