One of my favorite childrens’ anthems begins, “I see the love of God in every river.” This anthem continues by listing many ways we can see God – and all of these ways are right before our eyes. It’s a beautiful and simple message.
As a church musician, I make the obvious connection between being in or near a church structure and the presence of God. Many of you will be surprised to know, though, that I don’t necessarily associate grandeur or perfection of church architecture with God’s presence. In fact, one of my most inspiring worship experiences was serving as a substitute organist during the summer after eighth grade at a small Methodist church tucked into a corner lot on a busy Brooklyn avenue. During the service, I often listened to a volunteer Norwegian men’s choir singing hymns in barbershop harmony. The accompanying “visual” at that church was a pulpit/altar area filled with large potted palms. The part-time pastor was my eighth-grade science teacher – the overstressed teacher who had to manage a classroom full of unruly boys during the week (with breakable glass test tubes in the room). But on Sundays, he “preached like Paul.” God could be seen and heard in that modest little church – with a bad organ (but excellent smorgasbord).
Although we are grateful for, and needful of, the simpler ways that we can see and hear God, there are other paths – more complex – that can lead us to a richer and more meaningful understanding of our God. I am thinking of the music of Johann Sebastian Bach. In recognition of the 500th anniversary of Luther’s contribution to reforms in the Christian church, I have programmed some of Bach’s music as part of our worship life and as part of our concert series this year.
This Sunday, Thierry Mechler, professor of organ, piano, and improvisation at the music conservatory in Cologne, will be presenting an all-Bach concert featuring the master’s first published organ work, Clavier-Űbung, Part III. Deeply embedded in this organ music is Bach’s faith-filled desire to represent the theology and doctrine of the church through structured sound. Professor Mechler has already performed this work several times in Europe, and I believe we can look forward to an inspiring and meaningful view of God through the lens of Bach’s magnificent organ music. See you Sunday at 4 p.m.!
On October 29, Reformation Sunday, the Chancel Choir, soloists, and orchestra will be presenting Bach Cantata 80, “Ein feste Burg” (A Mighty Fortress) as part of our morning worship service. This piece will enrich your perspective of the church and its work, and it will deepen your understanding of Luther’s (and Bach’s) impact on our lives. Yet another way to see and hear God.
Written by Bob Gallagher