“How can you sing Bach’s St Matthew Passion if you are not a Christian?”
No question enrages me more, especially when asked by one who has just rejoiced in killing several wasps and flies under the midnight sky.
I try to explain that when I play a Bach bass line - whether it be to accompany a mother’s tears at the sacrifice her son makes or the renting of the veil in twain – I, just like the singer, am touched by the universal spirituality of the text. I am even more touched by the music Bach writes, which I believe to be more universal still.
I do not think the story actually happened, but I would say I strive for what is contained within its values every day. I fail mostly, like many good Christians, but I believe in our capacity to attain them, in the possibility of a state of loving kindness, mental stillness and non-violence.
So, what? I’m not a Sufi so I cannot have Rumi read at my wedding because I can’t really understand it? I am not a Buddhist so I have no right to meditate? I am not a mother so I cannot truly know love?
How dare anyone imply that my playing Bach’s St Matthew Passion or indeed Julian painting a field of sunflowers whilst listening to Handel’s ‘Theodora’, tears streaming down his face, for three hours is inferior to their prayer?
Today I went to church. I waded through milky green river in a natural corridor of glinting limestone. Wavelets were reflected on the curved walls and as I watched the shapes dance and felt my feet bathed clean, my ‘self’ was washed away briefly with the current, and I was at one with this magical architecture. We found a pool of smooth green clay and smothered our faces with it. I turned to my half sisters who were walking with me, their face-masks cracked now with smiling, and my heart almost burst with love. I glanced at my husband, his mind slowing for the first time in weeks as he walked in the water, and I felt at peace.
I could not have knowingly killed a wasp or a fly in that moment