One of my favourite films is “As It Is In Heaven”. Filmed in Sweden with a Swedish cast, it is a story of the disparate group of people who make up a small church choir. Under the somewhat unwilling direction of their famous, but prematurely retired, violinist and conductor music gradually creates an unexpected bond between the choir members. As they find their singing voice, so too they learn to voice their own truth and honour who they really are. Slowly and ever so ordinarily the characters confront the experiences and memories that block off their freedom and truth. Music brings them healing, but not necessarily “happy ever after”
Because we interact frequently with friends and colleagues we assume, like the people in the choir did, that we “know” them when in fact we only know bits about them. The death of a celebrity often unleashes a wave of grief by people who had assumed he was part of their life, a friend, when all they really knew of him was his public face. A bit like us really. We have a face that we present to work colleagues and acquaintances, sometimes even family, and then there’s the private me that we keep hidden and rarely share with anybody.
Sometimes I imagine that there are two kinds of people in the world; those who use a spirit level to lay decking, hang pictures on a wall or plant out a garden, and those who stand back and squint, then dive right in with hammer or shovel. My brother and my son-in-law are the former while I’m definitely the trust my eye type. We bring the same perceptions into our judgment of others. It’s so tempting to believe that we can apply to another’s life a leveler based on our personal experience and beliefs and then assume that they are the norm.
The family and friends that Jesus grew up with were quite sure that they knew this young carpenter. When he left home and lived as an itinerant preacher who spoke with confidence and authority they were affronted. They muttered things like “tall poppies” and “Who does he think he is?” They even had a go at insulting his mother. David Timbs in v2catholic says that they tried to “limit and domesticate him within the boundaries of their own logic, presumption, manipulation and comfort”.
It is hard for any of us to recognize the working of God in someone we are very familiar with. It takes an act of humility on our parts to recognize that God is working through this person who is just like us. It took an act of humility for the people of Nazareth to see God’s presence in the carpenter’s son. He was just like them. How could he possibly have the Spirit of God working in him. It takes an act of humility for us to recognize the Spirit of God working though the lady next door, our life partner, our children or our parents – or even ourselves.
But isn’t that what we do? It is so easy to use the community spirit level and flatten out the words and actions suggesting there are other ways and means of living the Gospel. We use the same spirit level to squash our personal God song, maybe because it takes courage to go against the tide of family customs, public opinion and established religious tradition in order to speak forth the truth with personal integrity.
Like the choir in the film, God longs for us to respect and value the song that only we can sing, then to open our mouths and give it voice.