Switch on the light

There are many things that thrill us. One is obviously football. Another is music. Watching and listening to Orchestra Kinshasa immediately tells you what a lift if gives people. They have taken to classical music and instruments and adapted them to be their own. ‘With the harp I will solve my problem’ (Psalm 49:4). It has been known since ancient times that music can raise our hearts to higher things and switch on a light in our lives.

Daniel Barenboim from Israel and Edward Said from Palestine met in 1999 to launch the idea of a Israeli-Palestinian Orchestra where musicians from across the Arab-Israeli divide could play music together. Their love for music united them and led to their sharing their different national narratives with each other. It lit a light in the darkness of relations between the two sides but it soon came under attack. They were accused of normalising the abnormal and softening the divide. The majority of people in Israel and the Arab world are against the project. Said died of leukaemia but Barenboim has kept up the orchestra. The musicians find the opposition tough but they keep going.

Barenboim says you cannot be ‘comfortable’ playing music. It calls for maximum ‘thought, feeling and guts’ if it is to be done well. So is working for peace. It meets with resistance and those who engage have to be tough. When Isaiah writes, ‘on those who dwell in the land and shadow of death a light has dawned’, he is not saying something comforting.

I remember, as a child, the day electricity came to our home. We’d been waiting excitedly for the great day but did not know exactly when it would be. Curious, I would occasionally try the switch to see if something happened. The great day came and suddenly there was light!

We know the light, of which Isaiah spoke, was rejected and Jesus ended on a cross. But those who work for peace are energised by the little victories they experience. So it is with the musicians of the ‘West Eastern Divan Orchestra’ – the name of the initiative described briefly here. A member interviewed spoke of the opposition but it was clear she loved what she was doing.

So, the dawning of light is a breakthrough which shows me the most satisfying and uplifting things come through facing the obstacle in my path. Why the word ‘divan’? The word is of Turkish origin and meant a council of state. In other words, it was a place where people meet to discuss issues. Clearly, that is not what an orchestra is about. But it is something that can come out of music.

22 January 2023    Sunday 3A  Is 8:23-9:3   1 Cor 1:10-17        Mt 4:12-23

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