Regardless of the [suspicions] in our mind about the random meaninglessness of life, before the face of beauty we know better. – Tim Keller / The Reason For God
I never became a Christian because of a convincing argument. The reason is simple, I have always felt “known.” I have always sensed that from somewhere deep in the cosmos I am known and cherished; not always deservedly so, but known and cherished none-the-less. And that’s pretty much the whole of it. The fact that this has resulted in Christian conviction in particular is simply because my parents were Christians and the story they told and exemplified about who God is resonated with my experience.
It’s not that I haven’t had my doubts along the way, but those doubts have been more about details, interpretation and practical consequence than the essence of what my soul seems to be incapable of not knowing.
Of late, with the onslaught of books from the newly energized, giddy community of fundamentalist atheists, I’ve taken a keener interest in what it is I believe and why, and there are some extremely stimulating debates, arguments and counter-arguments out there. But in the end, for me, experience trumps rational parlor games, and as unsatisfying as it may be for some, all I’ve got is my experience.
Three years ago I received a call from the Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra (WSO) asking me to consider doing a concert of my music with them at the Centennial Concert Hall in Winnipeg. The call seemed to come out of nowhere. It was not a direction I had even considered pursuing in my wildest dreams. But the invitation was accepted and with the exceptional gifts of my piano player Mike Janzen, we produced symphony scores for a dozen of my songs. And on November 17/2007 (my birthday) we joined the 60 piece orchestra and 2300 extremely animated concert goers for an evening I will never, ever forget. (click HERE for review of the concert. The link will open a new window and take you to the new Symphony Sessions Website)
If we could go back and observe that concert objectively, I’m sure we would find it to be full of awkward and less-than-flattering moments. I was very self conscious and unsure of myself. But the energy of the room, the rich texture of symphony and the flagrant presence of the Transcendent One is still palpable, obliterating most everything but the memory of pure beatitude. (click HERE to watch video of Burning Ember from that evening.)
Within a year we had produced a CD of the Concert material and booked an swing of eight consecutive Christmas concerts with the WSO: three concerts in Winnipeg’s concert hall and four in rural Manitoba communities. It is one thing to perform a single symphony concert, and quite another to do eight in a row. Typically, as the orchestra players get used to the guest artist, and to the material, there is an increasing investment of the individual players. And for me, as I felt an increased relationship/friendship with orchestra itself, I felt myself to gain increasing freedom and confidence. By the last concert, at a small little theatre in Virden Manitoba, it no longer felt like us (my band) and them- but a joyful unit of musical energy.
The hall in Virden was tiny – a bit of a disappointment for a last concert. It held only 250 people. The stage was so tiny there was talk of sending some of the orchestra home for lack of physical space. But no-one wanted to go home so we all squished onstage for what must have looked like something out of a Bugs Bunny cartoon. Mike had to play a digital piano and was perched precariously on the very edge of the stage. Without moving from my stool I could reach behind an grab the knees of the viola section, or scratch the unshaven face of my drummer Daniel to my left. To my right I could have reached past Rei Hotoda (conductor) to poke my bassist Gilles in the eye. We were ridiculously cramped – but it was great fun.
But from the very first note of the violins we all knew this would be the highlight of the tour. The volume on the tiny stage and the proximity of the overwhelmed audience made for an almost raucous energy that built over the course of the evening.
At one point of the concert, in the middle of a piano solo Mike really started to dig in. I immediately dialed right into him and we locked eyes as I tried to support and react (on guitar) to whatever he was playing. We got into this really interesting rhythmical dialogue and I suddenly realized that simultaneously he was reacting to me as much as I was reacting to him – we were both following, no-one was leading. It was a moment of what I can only call “mutual othering.” And here is the experience I want to tell you about: Right at the moment that I realized what was going on, it’s like the whole scene froze and was suspended in time. And in that suspension I sensed God say to me “Steve, pay attention to what is happening here. This is who I am; a free mutuality, an insoluble communion born of loving self-donation for the other.“ The freeze frame held for a moment then suddenly released and I found myself back in real time right as Mike and I, Rei, Gilles, Daniel and the rest of the orchestra all intuited a dynamic gesture that was not written or rehearsed. Honestly, the whole group on stage was so dialed into each other that we all had the same intuition at the same time. It was an ecstatic moment of pure beauty and unity unlike that I have never experienced before or since. And as I remember it, I swooned – not physically, but spiritually, or psychically (not sure what to call it.)
I was actually quite shaken by the experience. I’ve since read the phrase ‘the wound of beauty’ in a book title and I think I know what that might mean. For weeks after the concert I was a bit of a mess; awestruck, weepy, desperate to experience something like that again. Everything that I saw, touched or tasted that spoke of mutuality, whether a great meal with friends, a perfect match of melody and lyric, or a nuanced balance of colours in a painting – all filled me with joy and hope. Every hint of discord, whether it be in my family, on the news or on the street stabbed me like a knife.
I’ve since reflected on the experience a lot. Of course, as a Christian, the language of Trinity is what best approaches description. And I believe it with all my heart, that God is a unity of persons, and this unity, mutuality and love has always been. If God were a uni-person, God could not be love, only will, and hence the primary action of God would be power not love. If God were a personality-less benevolent energy, all particularity, distance, distinction, and ultimately all individual consciousness would eventually cease or at best be meaningless.
But perhaps God is the Trinity that “virtually rejoiced the world into being.” (Tim Keller) “At the center of the universe, self-giving love is the dynamic currency of the Tinitarian life of God.” (C.S. Lewis)
Imagine a world where each person harbours the other a the center of their being. Imagine a world where community is honoured without loss of personhood (as we have seen happen in Marxist regimes.) Or where the individual and the particular are valued without the collective being treated with suspicion or even disdain (as we tend to see in the west.) Imagine a world where big “T”truth is apprehended not as static proposition, or a relative thing, but in dynamic relationship. Imagine a world where peace (shalom) is given in love and not taken and secured by force.
I think that this is the world God once “rejoiced into being.” I think this is the world that was lost to autonomy and egoism. And I think this is the world God refuses to abandon and so is committed to it’s healing and restoration.
I think this is where we’re heading- of which we get the occasional foretaste. At least, my experience leads me to think so.