Wednesday, April 16, 2008


I hate the sound of my own voice. I wish that statement meant that I am not prone to bouts of “holding court” when sat in the pub with mates. It is literally true, I hate to hear myself on a video or on tape – I remember cringing at college when listening to myself preaching. However, the human voice is the most wonderful sound I can think of – being human depends so much on having a voice, on the ability to communicate complex notions to those around us. The human voice inspires, imagine Martin Luther King Jr with a thin reedy voice – his “I have a dream” speech would not carry the same weight, despite the words being the same.

In my mind, the most “spiritual” forms of worship are those without instrumentation, I was going to write “music” there but the voice is itself music. Once upon a time I liked worship with a healthy dose of U2, and it has on many occasions brought me to tears. However the ancient sounds of Gregorian chant, Gaelic psalms and the Islamic call to prayer call to the spirit, reminding me that there is no new revelation. I don’t want to get into the rightness or wrongness of different religions and denominations, but I believe that religion is primarily a human construction. Whether that construction is in response to divine self-revelation or the innate needs of man, I honestly don’t know and I am not arrogant enough to claim that knowledge.

In particular I love the Gaelic psalms as sung in the Outer Hebrides, a form of worship which has not changed in centuries, as such carries with it the expression of a culture which goes beyond the individual. And yet the individual can be found in the psalm singing. The precentor sings each line and the congregation repeats it adding their own inflections and embellishments – some have even suggested that this tradition is the wellspring of Gospel music in the USA, as opposed to African music.

I think it is this timelessness that appeals to me. These ancient forms of worship are not prone to zeitgeist, the whim of leaders and those with sufficient musical talent. Generations of people have found in the chanting and harmony a renewed faith or comfort in dark days, by connecting with the long established traditions which have nutured faith for millennia.

Of course the human voice can likewise be used to tighten the grip of evil on this world, with calls to murder and rape. That is the conflict of being human, to accept that within each one of us resides the same potential as in a Hitler or Gandhi.

The human voice is a double-edged sword, at once a sacrament and a curse. The choice though is ours as to what we do with our voice – it is our voice after all.

No comments: