by the Revd Canon Prof James Woodward, Principal of Sarum College, Salisbury.
I must be amongst a minority of people who did not see the Royal Wedding Saturday. Many months ago we had arranged a day to explore some of the spiritual and theological dimensions of money here at Sarum College. Bishop Peter Selby and Dr James Walters led us through a series of challenging reflections about debt, symbol, meaning and how we might put our theology to work. Those of us gathered in our lecture room could hear in the distance the voices of many enjoying a public screening of the events from Windsor at the East End of the Cathedral.
I confess to feeling surprised and even shocked at the range and strength of opinion expressed, especially by Christians, about the different voices present last Saturday in St George’s Windsor. The criticisms of the voices of both the Dean of Windsor and the Archbishop of Canterbury set against an unnecessary comparison between their voices and voice of Bishop Michael Curry have been persistent, critical and at times ferocious. We all hear with different perceptions and prejudices.
Social media turns all of us into public commentators exposing both our ability and inability to perceive, articulate and judge. In this as we find our voice in interpreting what we see and hear we also reveal some of our own flaws and uncertainties. A little more self-knowledge and tentativeness in the expression of our own voice is surely called for if we are to embody the hope and love for which Curry made such a passionate plea?
There are many agendas at work, not least the glorious and well tested ability of Christians to engage in tribal infighting. We should ask ourselves how and in what way our failure to honour difference and others voices leads to a stronger and more inclusive community. Surely we should be careful in the articulation of sweeping judgements which only give voice to a lack of generosity and inability to see how partial and limited our voices might be. To borrow the oft quoted former Archbishop Runcie’s analogy (paraphrased) comparing the church to a public swimming pool on a bank holiday Monday: ‘there is too much noise from the shallow end’.
A some measure of reservation, embrace of ambiguity and desire to use our voices to build up and strengthen might enrich community and model love.
To personalise this – the attacks on the Dean of Windsor and his voice – reveal a lack of understanding and appreciation of his care, faithfulness, goodness and steadiness. It may not be our voice but it was his voice and we should surely respect and honour that? It was a voice that deliberately and intentionally placed self aside in order to allow the words to speak and the focus not to be on him but on the act of worship within which the marriage took place. The culture of spiritual striving where the ego finds its moderated place and voice needs nurturing amidst the seductive and controlling forces of individualism. Those whose voices are raised in situations of conflict are rarely listening and so neglect to consider and reflect appropriately our human capacity constantly to fail to honour others.
Brought up in a family of six it is a reminder to me of the lesson needs to be daily learnt – expressed clearly to me by my parents : ‘Remember in living together as a family it isn’t all about you’.
There were other voices on that day. The voice of the cello blending in with the orchestra. The voice of those individual choristers and lay clerks who are attending to each other’s voices created harmony and music for our souls. Their skill as musicians depended in part on attending to each other’s voices and honouring them. There was the voice of the soloist raising our hearts to the vision of human solidarity in the song, Stand by Me. This was strengthened and enlarged by the choir raising their voices to fill that glorious vaulted space. There were the voices that did not speak. Meghan’s mother, Doria Ragland, uttered not a word but spoke the dignity and honour which warmed all of our hearts. There were the voices of all of those who work together across Windsor to ensure a celebration of life and love which lifted us all.
We need to continue to find a voice which is ours and to work as best we can to ensure that our voice honours others’. This is especially important as we listen to voices that are different, perplexing, uncertain, struggling towards expressing aspiration and pain. Nowhere is this more urgent than when voices where there is discord, disagreement and conflict.
In the film, The King’s Speech, the therapist working with the monarch to find and express his voice sums it up as follows, finding a voice looks like as he suggests is one ‘To give them faith in their voice and let them know a friend is listening.’
In our public discourse and in our human relating and listening, we must stand back and reflect a little on how our finding our voice and honouring other voices might help to build hope, inclusivity, understanding and trust out of friendship and supportive love.