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44.  Prelude and Fugue in A minor from Book 2





Try speaking this in the rhythm of the opening of the Fugue subject

When Jesus takes Peter, James and John up into the mountains (Matthew 17) the disciples have a vision of Jesus transfigured, his face shining like the sun and his clothes becoming pure white. They are in awe, amazed, and want to stay in this special place for ever. Then when they hear God’s voice from the cloud the amazement/ vision turns into fear and the vision goes as quickly as it arose. And then Jesus explains that they have now to return from the mountain to the plain, from the mystical experience to everyday life, for it is in the ‘ordinary’ world of the ‘mundane’ that the work needs to be done. This must have been hard for the disciples to understand at the time, but in the course of their lives they did indeed spread the Gospel, the Good news. not by staying in the separate ‘holy place’ but by bringing the ‘holy place’ into the actual physical material reality of life itself. Theologically what happens in the Transfiguration is the brief external revelation of how things really are all the time. Most of the time we do NOT see things as they really are because we live in fear. Fear makes things solid for us - it makes us fix past events as unchangeable and future events as controllable. The present flowing reality is bypassed - most of the time we are living on the bypass, we are missing the present, missing the mark. This is exactly what the real Biblical meaning of sin is - missing the mark. Nothing to do with sex, nothing to do with money, in fact nothing to do with conventional morality at all. It is living on the bypass and missing the present. It is taking the solid to be real and the flow to be elusive instead of understanding the solid to be illusory and the flow to be the way things really are. The reality of the human condition is that each day COULD be our last day of being alive on this earth. Many spiritual traditions emphasise the importance of being ready for death not as some morbid sort of exercise but as a discipline of being more alive, more present. The ‘practice of the presence of God’ as described in the medieval Christian mystical tradition is not really so different from ‘being aware of what is happening while it is happening, with awareness of preference’ as defined by the contemporary Mindfulness Association. There really is no confusion in presence, in mindfulness. There is no confusion in the disciples’ vision of the Transfiguration. Confusion only arises as either attachment or fear replace the clarity of the flowing experience which is the real substance of our life. In the Lord’s Prayer in the Aramaic we say Hawlan lachma d’sunqanan yaomana Give us this day what we need in bread and insight. Give us this day our bread of tomorrow. Open our hearts and minds now to receive what is eternally given. (Neil Douglas Klotz : Prayers of the Cosmos) Think of the 99% of matter now thought by contemporary physicists to consist of ‘nothingness’ and the parallels with mystical experience from different traditions are crystal clear. Mystical reality is not different from material reality. What changes is our mode of perception. And the way we change our mode of perception is by practise. It is just like learning a Bach fugue. We need to slow down, work out the physical coordination, and allow the connections between the notes to gradually reveal the music. In this sense practising the piano becomes a life creating meditation, a way of ‘practising the presence of God’, a way of ‘being aware of what is happening while it is happening’. One thing which is very clear from my experience of both performing and being part of an audience is that the quality of presence in the performers is reflected in the quality of presence in the audience. Spend a few minutes recalling the concerts you remember above all others - think about the presence in the performers and think about your own awareness, your own ‘being present’. One that I return to agin and again is hearing the great South African jazz pianist Abdullah Ibrahim play in London in 1988. It was just before Nelson Mandela’s release from prison. Ibrahim performed his powerful composition Mandela and I had an extraordinary glimpse of the power of music to actually change the world. Looking back now I realise how important that experience was in my life - the privilege of being alive, of being present, of being in touch with the power of music at that sort of depth. Like the disciples’ experience of the Transfiguration I glimpsed the significance at the time but it is in the everyday life of music teaching and performing since then that its meaning is still being revealed to me thirty years later. The ordinary, the mundane, IS extraordinary. There is no divide between the ‘spiritual’ and the ‘secular’. There is one world, we are ultimately all united. And as it says in a famous Chilean revolutionary song, another enormously powerful musical experience for me personally, El pueblo unido jamas sera vencido The people united will never be defeated.