Painful lessons on worship, thanks to Bach

It had been a busy period approaching Easter, but Good Friday had arrived with the promise of a short break.  We decided to start the weekend with a treat – to listen to St Matthew’s Passion by Bach in Coventry Cathedral.  An amazing piece of music that has formed an act of worship for many people over hundreds of years, we were looking forward to it.  We shared a lift with friends, one of whom was performing in the choir.

I knew nothing of the piece, but was a little alarmed to hear that it lasted three hours – I know what cathedral chairs can be like, and I was feeling somewhat worn down by some stressful meetings at work.  We had well placed seats, although the gentleman who sat next to me wore ‘fragrance of smoker’, and I noticed when the music began that his breathing was rather loud.  I prepared myself to be ‘wowed’ by the wonderful music.

Fifteen minutes into the performance I realised that the music and I spoke different languages of worship.

Thirty minutes in and I prepared myself for the ordeal as I do for the discomfort of a long flight in cramped uncomfortable airline seats; try not to wriggle too much so as not to disturb others,  focus on trying to doze and calm oneself to patiently endure the flight, listen to some nice music through headphones – not something I could do here of course.

It was not an un-spiritual experience.  It reminded me that Christ had suffered intently on the cross, that it had gone dark for three hours, that he’d willingly submitted himself to the pain, but that it would not have been an enjoyable experience.  And finally, thank God, it was finished.

The friends that I went with loved it, talking excitedly about different parts of the performance and how moved they were by it.  I was emotionally exhausted and felt excluded from the party – there was nothing positive I could think of to say, and I didn’t want to spoil their enjoyment of the evening so I was silent.  It was working until over dinner one of them mentioned I’d been quiet and asked what I’d thought of it.  After a few moments silence someone else spared me with ‘not your cup of tea then’, and the evening moved on.

Having had time to reflect a little, there are some lessons to learn from the experience.

  • Even the most brilliant worship music will not appeal to everyone, and will drive some people away.  If you want to help everyone ‘worship’, then you need a variety of approaches (not all musical!)
  • It feels very lonely and friendless being in an environment where others are enthusing about a method of worship that leaves you cold.  You can be left feeling ‘what’s wrong with me?’, and spiritually drained.  Don’t ‘demand’ that everyone enthuses about what you find uplifting, and don’t judge them if they don’t ‘connect’.
  • If you are feeling low, then a worship event may not be the best remedy.  You may end up worse that when you began.
  • Even if you are experiencing something painful, there are lessons to learn from it.

I don’t regret going, but I don’t suppose I will quickly repeat the experience.  Nobody wants to be the spectre at the feast.

About Minimalist Christian

Phil Hemsley is a graduate of the University of Cambridge, and a Fellow of the Institution of Mechanical Engineers in the UK. He works for a multinational company in the power industry, has presented technical papers at international conferences and holds many patents. He has published two books, the most recent is "The Big Picture, an Honest Examination of God Science and Purpose". He has lived on both sides of the faith fence. He is married, with two daughters.
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One Response to Painful lessons on worship, thanks to Bach

  1. unkleE says:

    ” You can be left feeling ‘what’s wrong with me?’, and spiritually drained. “

    I know this feeling. I felt it often when a member of a Pentecostal Church who didn’t share all their theology and experience of the Holy Spirit, and I still feel it to some degree in church from time to time. We are indeed all different, and fortunately we will be judged by how well we follow Jesus, not how we feel.


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