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Turn towards God, and he’ll come running to meet you

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AS I was wondering what to write, I read the Collect for today, the Third Sunday after Easter. I was shocked, for it is disgustingly Politically Incorrect and Un-Woke. Impertinently, it begins:  

Almighty God, who shewest to them that be in error the light of thy truth. 

Anyone who prays this Collect is guilty of a serious crime, and deserves to be arrested by the Thought Police. The Collect dares shockingly to assume that there is some difference between truth and error: that some things are right and others wrong. That there is the light of the truth and the darkness of lies. Claim those things and you will hear the voice of the Woke Constabulary accuse:

‘ . . . that you did wilfully and with intelligence aforethought state that some things are true but other things are false. That you did callously discriminate and allege that there be some who hold notions which are in error. You are therefore guilty of the under-mentioned crimes: elitism, for thinking that you know better than some others; incitement to religious hatred, because you imply that there are false beliefs; narrow-minded sectarianism, for daring to state that the Christian faith is true – with the implication that other beliefs might not be. You are also guilty of antiquarianism, medievalism and obscurantism and of giving offence to atheists by denying that their beliefs are valid’.

The Woke Constabulary are wrong. There is the light of God’s truth. It is what we stand for. But what is God’s truth? It’s there in the Creed, of course. But God’s truth is more than statements. It’s more than what can be said. It’s more than can be thought. So, what is this truth? It is to claim the primacy of being over thinking – because thinking has to be about something. And that all the somethings there are – all being – owes its being to God. So, the truth is to rejoice in the being of God and the being which he created: you.

I am a dyed-in-the-vestments Anglo Catholic but let me say a word for the Evangelical preachers who insist you must give your life to Christ. This means that you must accept that your whole being is a gift from God and that the purpose and end of your whole life must either be rooted in God and always tend towards God – or else it is going nowhere. Without God there are no roots that clutch. Without God, we’re finished. There is literally nothing to us. You can express and explain this in the old tub-thumping language of salvation or damnation if you like, but what it amounts to is simply this: with God we are and without God we are not.

Before we get to heaven or hell beyond the grave, there is a life here and now. And in this life we have the choice of whether to belong to God, to tend towards him, to be grafted, rooted, built in him – or to do something else. To turn to God is the light of his truth, which is life. To turn away is error and it is death, nothing. So, the choice is truth or error: being or nothing.

But just how do we give ourselves to God and recognise that we find our being in him? Not by theory, but by practice.

I think a musical example might help. If someone gives herself to music, what does that entail? It involves accepting the total reality of music and being into it. as they say. The music student learns musical notation, key signatures, the notes on the stave, rests, modulations, the principles of harmony, cadences, augmented and diminished chords, ternary form, tonal progressions, dominant, sub-dominant, tonic, supertonic – the lot. And the music student assiduously applies herself practically: at scales, graded exercises, the theory notebook, the art of fugue, five finger exercises, breathing exercises – the whole thing.

Notice what the musician does not do. He doesn’t stick his tuning fork back in the cupboard and say, I wonder if there actually is such a thing as C-major? Or, You know, when I come to think of it, I don’t really believe in crotchets. I even have my doubts about church organs . . . 

Now the reward for all this music learning and practising is that you become a musical being. This is wonderful, for it means that you can appreciate something of what music is. You can, however amateurishly, produce some music. And the glorious blessing which this brings is that you really feel you are part of music. And this feeling is not a delusion, not a confidence trick. It is real because the experience of music making is real. As Eliot says, You are the music while the music lasts.

Perhaps the greatest single achievement of the musician, whether a performer, a composer or even a mere listener, is in a way to be someone who orders time. Think of the delicious ambiguity beats time. It is the musician who escapes clock time by transcending it. For the music-lover, thirty minutes isn’t just any old thirty minutes of drab duration. Thirty minutes is the length of, say Mozart’s Sinfonia Concertante in E-flat K364. And those thirty minutes are ordered in that piece in a way that uses time marvellously. You might even say it is music which best teaches us what time is. Not clock time, but quality time. You hear a piece by Bach, Purcell or Mozart and you think, Ah yes, that’s what time is FOR!

All the lovely blessings, satisfactions and happiness I have mentioned come about because the musician gives himself to music. Now something like this happens when we give ourselves to God. The musician learns to become rooted in music, or you might say to wallow in it, to splash around in it with delight and confidence – because he’s in his element. He couldn’t do music before he gave himself to music. And you can’t do God until you give yourself to God.

This goes beyond saying you believe certain things about God to be true. It’s more than reciting the Creed. It’s not holding in your mind propositions about God and making a conjecture as to whether they’re true. Giving yourself to God is not just thinking about God. It is being towards God. As the musician is being towards music.

You just go with it. It is the reorientation of your whole being. You offer your being for God to work on, to play with, as someone might play the piano. You don’t introspect. You don’t ponder whether God exists any more than the musician doubts the existence of C-sharp. You take God’s being for granted and play around in it, as the composer might play around in a succession of keys.

And like the young musical learner who finds he can make a stab at the little Minuet in G attributed to Beethoven, if you turn your being towards God, you will find little intimations of godliness. And the wonder of it is that while you are being towards God, the being of God comes to meet and enfold you in all his loveliness. You’re not going to face a stern judge or an inquisition. If you turn – if you turn your little being towards God, God will come running to meet you like the father of the prodigal son who seeth him afar off and ran, and fell on his neck and kissed him. God will be near you, closer than you could imagine, as he was with the married couple on the walk to Emmaus – and they didn’t even know. 

Be towards God. Do it now. And God will enfold you in the fullness of his being, which is love:

          Then already your desire and your will

          Will be turned like a wheel, all at one speed,

          By the love which moves the sun and the other stars.

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Peter Mullen
Peter Mullen is a Church of England clergyman, writer and broadcaster

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