I'm glad that George Herbert gave me permission to lose touch with my Lenten discipline earlier in the week, or I might have been tempted to slink away altogether having not blogged since Monday. However, I have the BEST excuse, as I've been focusing my time and energy on the divine Eleanor Grace (who will have her very own blog post when my brain can catch up with my emotions, which may take some time on current showing), and dear George was very clear that it was OK to fall over and then get up and carry on - that there was no need to abandon the journey completely just because it was interrupted...so, here I am, back again, and still working on "King of Glory..."
Wherefore with my utmost art I will sing thee,
And it is so very tempting to assume that "utmost art" will be particularly attractive to God...
It is, actually, a particular temptation in a Cathedral, - where you are surrounded by all sorts of beauty, for
eyes and ears alike. People come to be with us at least in part because they value an illusive
something that might be described as "excellence in worship".
Though I'm confident that it was God who called me to Coventry, it was the lure of working in a place where
beautiful music was part of daily life that initially made that call accessible, even attractive.
I'm all for utmost art.
Except...Is that really what God asks of us?
There's a risk that studied perfection may become soulless...and a risk, too, that it may become an
end in itself, rather than a signpost to a beauty beyond words.
"Utmost art" can be dangerous.
Perhaps, then,my Cathedral can teach me to look at things differently.
"To the glory of God this cathedral burned" is a startling thought to find beneath your feet as you stand
at the West Screens of my beloved Coventry, - but those words have more power for me than the
usual inscription on foundation stones "Erected to the glory of God".
They suggest that all the beauty, all the artistry and skill that was lost when the medieval cathedral of
St Michael's, Coventry, was destroyed, and indeed all the artistry and skill that was lavished upon the
Spence cathedral that replaced it, came a poor second to the moment when all was swept away, lost
in the fire of that night in November 1940...
That's challenging, isn't it?
Utmost art, beauty designed to enthrall the senses, and draw heart and mind towards heaven,
has less power than that story of destruction and the amazing work of reconciliation that was born
from the ashes.
Yes, of course we long to give of our best to God in response to his indescribable gift
to us...but the point is, surely, that longing rather than the splendour of the gift.
Once upon a time, a shrewd ABM assessor intimated that I might have an issue with perfectionism.
I explained that, if there were the possibility of giving God a bouquet of roses from a garden, it
seemed mean to contemplate substituting a wilting fistful of daisies...but that if a child brought those
daisies, they would surely be received with joy.
So - utmost art not because God can only be offered perfection. There's nothing we can do that will
come close to his own "endless perfectnesse" ...
But utmost art because as God pours out Godself for us, so we are moved to respond in kind.
It's not his need but ours that we meet here...