As the sounds of an ancient choral masterpiece filled the BMW Edge in Federation Square recently, I closed my eyes and allowed my being to be saturated its beauty and harmony. Lifting my eyes slightly to the glass backdrop, I was attracted by the late-afternoon light bathing the trees and the river in a soft hue outside. All seemed in harmony – creation and song, tapestry and symphony in rhythm together.
In the background, though, my attention was awakened to the activities taking place on the river banks. Cyclists setting a variety of paces – from the clearly athletic and dedicated to the social. I noted a father waiting for some small children to catch up. Rowers slid past on the water, as another crew was lifting a boat from the water to return it to the shed. Friends and lovers lay by the river, chatting, while others strolled the pathways of Birrarung Marr. My initial thought was about the disconnect between the voices I was hearing and the experiences of those outside.
“They were missing something beautiful,” was the thought that first came to mind, until I pictured myself in their shoes, enjoying a different but no less profound beauty outside.
It was tempting to define my experience inside the theatre as spiritual over against the social experience of those outside. Separated as we were, I reminded myself that we were all connecting to life in different ways. The link between the beauty of creation, the beauty of relationships and the beauty of song was evident – each a response to the life we have been given.
As tempting as it can be to define some places as more spiritual than others, I am reminded that much of the work and ministry of Jesus took place outside the religious environment – in the street, in houses, around tables, or along the river bank offered. Jesus was also found in the temple, in the synagogue and with the teachers of the law. While the latter places were often unfruitful for Jesus’ ministry, they were never neglected. When we confine our spiritual experience to one space or another, we limit its potential.
A faith journey invites us to be in the world in all its fullness, but not confined or defined by it. Rather we are drawn deeper or wider into the fullness of the mystery of life.
April 8, 2012
NB: this reflection was published in the Sunday Age on April 8, 2012
Rev Gary Heard is pastor of The Eighth Day, a Baptist Community in West Melbourne.