Norman and I worked together for twenty-two years next door at St. Alban’s Parish. It was an amazing time. We found it necessary to warn people that worshipping at St. Alban’s meant that when they died and went heaven the music would probably be a little disappointing. During those years, as well as before and after, Norman was widely known, admired and honored for his amazing gifts. One could say that he enjoyed world renown but those who were closer would know that he did not really enjoy it. Pleased by it? Honored by it? Yes. But the well-deserved accolades swirled around a natural and unpolished humility, the kind that does not despise applause but is always surprised by it. On one occasion I congratulated him on an honor bestowed, to which he replied in amazement, “But it’s just sound!”
That comment says more about Norman’s nature than it does about his appreciation of music because he and you and even I know that what he did was much more than “just sound.” But pause with me for a moment at that somewhat rhetorical point.
There is something that makes music more than just sound. It is, in fact, the same thing that makes this service more than just remembrance and liturgy. There is a reality in life and in death that moves Godward, making all things to be more than their beginnings.
The music Norman made and made happen was infinitely more than just sound because of that force in life. You have heard it, felt it, participated in it. Something—a force or a feeling, a pull or a push, a wind or a tide—raises sound to the level of music, music to the level of worship, and worship to the level of praise which is the entrance to the joy of God. You know and I know it. We have felt it and been part of it. It does not leave tracks that can be seen by science, nor does it lend itself to words, but it is as real as anything in life.
It is the same reality that touches human life and turns proximity into presence, presence into relationship, and relationship into love which is the experience of God. You know what I mean. It is what quickens hearts and holds families together. We have all been touched by it.
That force is what turns noticing into awareness, awareness into passion. It pulls the privacy of passion outward into the virtue of compassion, and compassion into service, which is the work of God.
In the Christian tradition that force is called the Holy Spirit, but its reality is not confined to a single understanding or wording. Norman Scribner knew that Spirit in his art, his family, and his work. That force is at work in the world. You and I have known that Spirit in your own lives. We know it is real no matter what it is called and even if it goes unnamed.
Catching that Spirit—feeling and trusting the force that moves life Godward—is what musicians and lovers and true servants do. And it is what funerals like this one do. We reach for that which is beyond our control but well within our expectation. It is the way one holds a kite to the wind or drops a stick into a stream. It is what we do when we let go of a child’s hand at the schoolhouse door or share an idea with a friend. It is the universal act of letting go, trusting the dynamics of God’s plan to move life Godward. It is the way sound becomes music, relationships become love, and awareness becomes service. Catching that Spirit is what conductors do when they raise the baton. It is what families do when they lower a body.
That spiritual force is never absent even when it is not apparent. It is the excellence that lurks in a first rehearsal, the love at the edge of every introduction, the passion that waits in every pause. It is the light that glimmers in the darkness of grief.
What follows in this service are our prayers and, of course, more music. They have the common purpose of opening us to the force of that which would move us and all of life Godward. It is the same Spirit that enriched Norman’s life and our lives through him. It is the same Spirit to which we entrust him and upon which we all rely. Catching that Spirit is what comes next. I hope you will enter into it as fully as possible. Amen.