Saturday, June 9, 2012

The Art of the Fugue

The Kingdom of God is like a fugue. Seriously. In fact, most of the major concepts of the Bible are like a fugue. In my experience, it's one of the most useful ways of thinking about the Biblical narrative.

A fugue is a compositional technique (in classical music) in two or more voices, built on a subject (theme) that is introduced at the beginning in imitation (repetition at different pitches) and recurs frequently in the course of the composition. Thanks, Wikipedia!

No idea what that means? Watch this. I recommend full-screen. Focus, don't multi-task. It's worth it.

Get it?

The piece starts off with a small and simple melodic line. Easy to follow, easy to distinguish, easy to remember. That melody then gains ornamentation (it's done made fancy) which demonstrates the skill of both the composer and performer while increasing the enjoyment of the listener. It's not amusement only, though: the ornamentation actually brings out more of the melody line and makes it more distinctive.

Then, just when you think you're beginning to understand the melody line, it shuts off and appears again somewhere else. Exact same basic melody, but with a twist. From one perspective, there's no direct musical connection between the first and second occurrence. It's usually played by a different hand on a different part of the piano (or organ, or whatever). But it's unmistakably the same melody. Then that familiar melody stops, only to start again somewhere else. The enjoyment and appreciation of the fugue comes from recognizing the common melody and its ornamentation, and the way the melody can be stacked against itself in different ways.

Ok, enough of the pretension. I like fugues cause they sounds good. After being in a choir for 15 years, you learn to appreciate the complexity.

This is what the Bible is like. I'm preaching this weekend on Habakkuk 3, and briefly mentioning what I consider the major narrative thread of the Bible: "God wants to dwell with his people." You see an echo of this thread on almost every page of the Bible, if you know how to look (or, perhaps, how to listen).
It starts in the Garden of Eden, where God walks with Adam and Eve. Adam and Eve are tainted by their sin, and become unable to bear the presence of a Holy God. But God doesn’t stop loving them, and throughout the rest of the Bible we continue to see that God’s primary desire is to dwell with his people. We see the tent of meeting, and the Tabernacle, and Solomon’s temple. But these are just a stopgap solution; a physical metaphor for a people that didn’t yet understand what it means for God to dwell with us. That we are the temple of a holy God.

In the New Testament, Jesus refers to himself as the temple, the place where God dwells. Ok, his disciples say, we get that. Good. Then it’s the church that is the temple of God; the place where he dwells. And finally this reaches its fullness in the writing of Paul, where he says “Your body is the temple of God.” YOU are the place where God dwells. Our God is the God who dwells with us.
You see this "fugue" methodology all through the text, "Temple" and "Kindgom" are just the most obvious melodies. See also "Covenant," "Sacrifice," "Family," "Law," "Salvation," and so on. Once you learn the art of the fugue, what otherwise seems like a solid wall of noise begins to resolve into discernible patterns, written and performed by a Master Musician.

It's worth spending some time learning the fugue, for your enjoyment of music if nothing else. Once you think you've got it, try this on for size.

Or, if that's too much, start with this:

Don't even get me started on grace notes.

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