We are all familiar with the figure of the conductor of an orchestra. The conductor, waving a baton, speeds up the music or slows it down. The conductor signals to individual instrumentalists that they should begin to play now. The conducting can alter the emotional tone of the music, bringing out different emphases.
There are many images that can help us understand the work of the Holy Spirit. One of them is to see the Holy Spirit as co-ordinating and encouraging the whole human symphony. The sound of our different lives can be discordant or harsh. The Spirit draws us towards harmony. As players we are often tempted to do our own thing, to toot our trumpet as it were, regardless of others. The Spirit takes us in a different direction. Each person is like an instrumentalist who has to learn to listen to the others, to join his or her contribution in the right way to those of the others in the orchestra. We have to work with others to weave together our music in such a way that it makes something far greater than our individual achievements. And for this, the musicians have to listen both to their own music and to the music of everybody else. Beethoven once said that music brings together the sensual and the spiritual.
There is a message here for us each of us in our own living. We have to be aware of our own lives. We must, of course, pay attention to our own hopes and fears, our dreams and our realities, our difficulties and achievements. But we have to find our place in the greater togetherness of family, community, society, humanity – and Church. We cannot do this unless we learn to listen to one another, which is a work of the Holy Spirit within us. This ceaseless work of the Spirit can take place anywhere, any time, and not only among religious people. The Spirit that breathed over the earth at the moment of creation brought order out of chaos. The world still tends towards chaos and fracturing, and it is the work of the Spirit to heal, to unite, to reconcile, to bring to birth new possibilities even among reluctant men and women.
In the next few days we face a General Election. My position is non-partisan. I do not endorse this or that party, and I respect all those who work for the good of the country, whatever their party allegiance. Regardless of the outcome, my prayer is that the power of the Holy Spirit may help us to listen to one another. I think that we will need this. Perhaps I am wrong, but it seems to me that in the last 10 years or so the country has become more polarised. There is less shared understanding. Compromise seems to be harder to achieve. The questions of our age have brought divisions that are harder to bridge, and those on different sides of the various divides have become more entrenched. Feelings seem to run stronger than at any time since the Thatcher era. So I pray that we will listen to each other, respect one another, and that the Holy Spirit will give us discernment.