While working with parish volunteers this week on several tasks involving the preparing of parts for the installation of a pipe organ at St Paul’s, I was struck by the difference between impression and reality. Having been a pipe organ enthusiast since I was in my teens, having done a capital funds campaign to expand an instrument in a previous parish, and being married to an organist, I had an impression that I knew more than a little about these instruments.
Yet there I was actually handling organ pipes and parts which have a complexity that is amazing. One pipe for each of the 90+ notes in the extended rank. And delicate parts on these metal tubes that form the reed pipes. There will be 10 ranks in this instrument – along with a maze of wiring and electronic interfaces to get the right pipes to play when you depress a note. In addition there is wind regulation, reservoirs and wind lines to run; a shutter system to modulate sound and a case to build in which to house the instrument.
An organ was, until the industrial revolution, the most complex mechanism in the world. And no two are alike – each is unique in array of and style of sound produced. The hardest job for an organist is not playing the notes – it is discovering the various sounds an instrument is able to make and then deciding what sounds to use in playing a hymn or piece of organ literature.
Complexity is something we often find hard to comprehend. We often want things simple and direct. Simple answers always looking better than nuanced answers that are not definitive. And this is especially true in the world of faith. We prefer sound bites to reasoned paragraphs which require us to be fairly flexible in our thinking and broad in our interpretations.
One difficulty the Episcopal Church has is that we are not as good with sound bite religion. We can sound a bit iffy when we talk about where we stand and what we believe. The reason is that we believe in unity not uniformity; in acceptance and invitation, not primarily in judgment and turning away the “unworthy”. We believe in God’s power to transform us more than in God’s aversion to humans who fail and fall from grace.
I give thanks for the reminder that life and faith are not simple – and that I must be more aware of the complexities as I interact with the world and the rest of humanity – rather than just judging from the comfort and certainty of my biases based on my limited view point.
The beauty and majesty of the pipe organ is a product of the complexity, operations and the contributions of a myriad of individual parts working together in in unison. So too, Jesus’ vision of humanity is of us each and all making our choices to work together in this complex web of interactions that would result in the world as God would have it.