Image: ‘The Good Shepherd’ by Sieger Köder (1925-2015). Sieger is a priest and a prolific artist, little known outside Germany despite his brilliance. Here he self-consciously gives homage to Marc Chagall.

‘We play by ear …’

Andrew Collis
Easter 4, Year C
John 10:22-30

Dorothy and I like watching The Voice singing competition, and again this year one of the coaches/judges is British singer-songwriter Rita Ora, who, whenever she hears an especially impressive vocal, gets very emotional and exclaims, “What is happening!”

Today’s homily plays/prays within the fold of belief and belonging … belonging and hearing … hearing and following. When we hear the divine voice, the call, what do we hear? What is happening?

The phenomenon has to do with religious imagination. The voice I hear is, perhaps, akin to conscience (interior, inaudible), but prior to this has to do with actual voices – the sounds of the world around me … the music in response to which I know that I belong. I believe because I belong. I belong because I hear the voice …

To be more specific, I hear elemental and animal sounds. I hear human and urban sounds. My ear, my whole body receives the vibrations. Religious imagination works with all of this – beauty … restored or yet to be revealed. And I discern a call – biblically speaking, it is the call – “Where are you?” (Genesis 3:9; 22:1; Exodus 3:4; 1 Samuel 3:1; Isaiah 6:8).

I respond with heart and voice: “Here I am.”

Hineni (Hebrew) means an offer of availability, readiness to serve … to engage, to dialogue. Hineni is also a prayer recited during Rosh Hashanah (new year) and Yom Kippur (atonement) services.

I was sitting in a Glebe café on Monday. A song by Amy Winehouse was playing on the stereo (“Tears Dry on Their Own”) and three of us looked up, smiling, nodding. We shared a few words then, expressing love and sadness, love and understanding.

When we hear the voice of a loved one, across whatever distance, by way of various media – the recalled or recorded voice of a loved one – we may experience a powerful (life-affirming) intimacy.

Philosopher, theologian and poet Jean-Louis Chrétien (1952-2019) says that “to listen is to be opened to the other and transformed by the other at our most intimate core. Intimacy, in these ways of thinking, is neither escape nor shelter, but rather the place of broader exposure.”

Where are you? Here I am.

Listening to the voice of another (the chorus of creation, Mother Earth), I may experience a certain destitution – a loss of ego, pride, my self as I understand it … and re-constitution or renewal.

As James Baldwin writes: “Love takes off masks that we fear we cannot live without and know we cannot live within.”

Listening to the voice of another (child, lover, neighbour or stranger, a cry of anguish or delight) and allowing my own voice to be altered – this is the model for all art (I love this work by German priest Sieger Köder), as for life in abundance.

We play by ear that we may pray by heart.

American poet, Jericho Brown, says: “I think of writing, first, as a process of listening to some series of sounds that enter my mind … and, second, as a process of embodying those sounds.”

How many voices are heard in a single song? In the Song of Songs, for instance? How many perspectives, possibilities – modes and meanings?

The Bible is inspired, we profess – it is full of breath, containing a great many voices (genres, places, memories, hopes, echoes, allusions), harmony vocals, dissonant chords, through which the Word or Wisdom of God resounds.

To read the Bible involves the history of reading itself that comes to us through interpretations, through translations. “This polyphony … is inscribed in the Bible itself, since the good news, the gospel, does not reach us only in a single narrative but according to four versions, thus calling by nature for confrontation, comparison, interrogation …” (Chrétien).

Chrétien again: “Breathing is the perpetual and active rejection of solipsism” … “the breath, like the spirit, increases by its exchange” … “all that is spiritual is also fleshly in the religion of the Incarnation.”

Where are you? Here I am … Here we are.

Sydney Town Hall. Friday, May 6. Five thousand student strikers (most too young to vote in the coming election), chanting for climate justice, First Nations justice, social justice … calling for system change, speaking truth to power, making space for wisdom, valuing the testimony of angry, hurt and anxious neighbours/companions … looking after the vulnerable … caring about future generations … enacting hope, bringing joy.

Five thousand student strikers and supporters within the fold of belief and belonging … belonging and hearing … hearing and following.

Before marching to Liberal Party headquarters in Macquarie Street, we witnessed a performance by singer-songwriter, Montaigne, whose exquisite song, “Ready” (2019), hit all the right notes: “And I’m, I’m out on the wind / So catch my wings / I think I’m ready to go / I think I’m ready … I’m ready to begin again.”

What is happening! Hineni, hineni. Amen.