Dear Minster and Friends,
While small musical ensembles and bands do well without a conductor, when the few become the many, most orchestras choose to have a conductor. With the right hand and with a baton, a conductor usually sets, keeps and arranges the beat and the timing, and with the left hand brings the expression. There are records going back to 709 BC of a Greek conductor, Pherekydes, who beat time with a golden rod and leading 800 musicians together. Together, with hundreds of musicians and a single great maestro conductor, all the constituent parts join together in a spectacular whole – where they become so much more than the parts. Sometimes the conductor is also the composer, as with Miriam, Moses’ sister who led an entire army and musicians out with dancing whilst keeping the beat with a tambourine. (Ex 15:19-21)
The musician Clemency Burton Hill writes: “The conductor is there to bring a musical score to life, communicating their own highly refined sense of the work through an individual language of gestures, which might sculpt the musical line, tease out nuances, emphasise certain musical elements while controlling others, and essentially re-imagine an old piece anew.” And more than this, a great conductor needs to have complete knowledge of the music, as well as being an expert at listening to every instrument simultaneously in order to lead effectively. Our Lord is both conductor and composer – arranging, organising, making time and expression, and it has always been so, like in Jonah:
“The Lord God appointed a plant and made it come up over Jonah, that it might be a shade over his head, to save him from discomfort.” (Jonah 4:6)
Miracles are events in concert. The amazing and unusual occurrences in the book of Jonah are the working together of multiple tiny possibilities in the very moment that leads us to call them miraculous. The Hebrew language makes this clear by using the word ‘appointed’ at several points in the story – God arranges a sea creature, conducts a wind, organises a plant, and plans a worm – all these English words are equivalents which points us to the conclusion of the story that God is a god of mercy and compassion who cares deeply for the lives of many hundreds of thousands of people who we might be tempted to ignore or count out. The song is a song of salvation, accompanied by nature, a surly prophet, unusual circumstances and a whole range of human emotions. If we listen carefully we can hear God speaking to us through this song, but if we allow, this great conductor can and will use us in his beautiful miracles in our own age and situation.
With much love,