A disturbing season: encountering the Divine in the music of Bach

By Jill Segger
April 15, 2017

These are strange days for those of us whose spiritual lives are not focused on season and liturgy. The dramatic intensity of the Passion narrative is not to be denied, for non-credal Quakers, just as for atheists and devout church people.

Uncertain as I am about a bodily resurrection, I have no doubt about the incapacity of death and cruelty to end the power of Jesus' spirit. This is resurrection life – to live without being crushed or made despairing by the playing out of those forces which killed him and which endure in our own time.

The will and ability of power to encompass the destruction of those who are neither compliant nor apathetic has not changed greatly. It is 2000 years since the occupying power of a middle eastern country, abetted by the religious establishment, decided that the radical preacher from a despised province was too disturbing to be tolerated. And today, perhaps more than ever, we know that truth is both fugitive and disturbing. It asks questions, requires ongoing re-framing of answers, inverts expectations and challenges us to look so much further than we are inclined to think possible.

Disturbance can bring great pain. Loss, betrayal, failure, self-loathing, guilt – these, and so many other backwashes of living in painful times, may break us. This is why for me, the only liturgy for this disturbing season is Bach's St Matthew Passion. At once monumental and tenderly intimate, it brings the universal into the here and the now.

And of all the wondrous music in this musical and spiritual masterpiece, it is the aria Erbarme dich, mein Gott, the grief of Peter when he realises he has denied Jesus, which most speaks to my mind and heart. The sorrowful discourse between the alto voice and solo violin is a place where the Divine plays in the theatre of our experience.

The 'Mother of All Bombs', the lurching towards war, the persecution of difference and growing callousness towards the poor, the sick and the disabled are all spoken to here: “Have mercy on me, Lord my God, because of my weeping”.

Whatever your spirituality, please spare a few minutes to take the possibility of encountering blessing here .


© Jill Segger is an Associate Director of Ekklesia with particular involvement in editorial issues. She is a freelance writer who contributes to the Church Times, Catholic Herald, Tribune, Reform and The Friend, among other publications. Jill is an active Quaker. See: http://www.journalistdirectory.com/journalist/TQig/Jill-Segger You can follow Jill on Twitter at: http://www.twitter.co/quakerpen

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