Thursday, April 02, 2020

hearing something new in familiar lines

I don't know about you, but as I have been working away in splendid isolation, I have been rediscovering gems in my music collection. Of course, half my life is spent in Zoomworld, trying to focus on what's being said but often taking more interest in the wallpaper or curtains behind whoever is speaking.

But among the CDs (remember them?) that I've been spinning has been my limited Jethro Tull collection, Aqualung and Passion Play. The former was a gift from long time friend, fellow minister and Jethro Tull aficionado, George Pitcher, and is full of musings on the presence of the divine in our daily lives. I might reflect further on that in a subsequent post as I've played it a lot.

But Passion Play, Tull's flawed musings on mortality and morality (I think...) contains two of my favourite lines in popular music. Over maudlin piano and acoustic guitar, Ian Anderson sings,

There was a rush along the Fulham Road
there was a hush in the Passion Play

I've always liked the internal rhyme that emphasises the stopping of everything in the bustle of life. And as I heard these lines a number of times over the past week or so, they have resonated in a new way.

There was (past tense) a rush along the Fulham Road; there was a hush, pause, a rest, even a full stop, in the passion play... I don't know what traffic on the Fulham Road is like just now but if it's anything like the traffic round here, it's not the jam it used to be.

The lockdown, the absence of the bustle of traffic and office life, the grinding to a halt of so many parts of the economy, means there is a hush in our passion play, a pause in the clamour, rush and tear of business, productivity and consumption.

The tune of this refrain - it comes number of times over the forty minutes of the album - in minor chords, has a feeling of loss, lament, even bereavement. And of course, the juddering halt to so much of our passion play has crashed production and put countless livelihoods at risk. Good companies will go the wall - the hush will be permanent - and good workers will be rendered unemployed.

And we weep for all this; and in particular for all those whose lives are rendered insecure by this current crisis; just as we weep with the bereaved who have lost loved ones before their time.

But perhaps the hush in the Passion Play also forces us to take stock, to examine what life is, what we get out of bed for in the morning, whether the passion play is worth our investment.

People talk about getting back to normal by the summer, as if what we are experiencing now will vanish like the morning mist and be consigned to the filing cabinet of bad dreams. The economy will bounce back - though what shape will it be in? How much austerity will be visited on us for the largesse of these months?

But people also talk of things never being the same again. How can we go back to underfunded health care systems and undervalued, underpaid key workers, not just those in the NHS but those who kept the food supplies going, those who work in shops, clean our streets, clear away our rubbish; all those people we suddenly realise are essential to our lives, if not to the economy.

And we are coming to the season of the great passion play. This Sunday I would have been preaching at a Palm Sunday service in West Croydon, I would have been reminding the faithful of the parade Jesus led as a counter blast of the arrival of Pilate from his palace by the sea to a sweaty city simmering with uproar and unrest. And the following weekend we will be retelling the story of the passion of Jesus, his cross and suffering, and the resurrection of Christ, the eruption of new creation in the midst of a tired and fractious old world. Our retelling this year will be unfamiliar, even novel, but no less heartfelt than previously.

Things will never be the same because Christ is risen. And as the rush returns to the Fulham Road and the hush in our Passion Play is over, will our world return to business as usual or will we have seen things in these days that means we pay closer attention to the one who comes to us and says 'behold, I make all things new'? Will our re-emergence into 'normal' life be a new adventure in justice and equality and the re-ordering of things in the interests of what matters?