We Are All On Holy Ground - Retreats 2015
Margaret Rizza reflects on the significance of music and sacred space in her own encounter with holy ground.
This article is based on Margaret’s response to a series of interview questions.
My earliest memories of music and faith were that they always seemed to go together. They were always there somehow and never seemed divided but I would say that faith and relationship with God, with Jesus, were always there from being a tiny child. The seed of music, which I think I was born with, grew out of this and they became one.
I was very blessed to have musical parents. My father was an organist and played the organ at the Parish Church in Stone and my mother played the piano. I used to play piano duets with my elder sister – she always taking the melody part and I being relegated to muddle my way through the bass part! Eighty years on I continue playing them now with my daughter who naturally plays the ‘tune’ and I am still left with the bass part!
It is very important to me to find sacred space in order to let musical creativity flow and become alive. There can be many ways to find sacred space, but for me the two main ones are the outer sacred spaces and the inner sacred space. Deep within my being, as with all of us, there is this inner sacred space where the Holy Spirit dwells, where God’s abiding presence continually loves me into being. Music for me is the very relationship where it becomes a prayer of the heart – a language beyond words. Here in the sacred space of solitude and silence, I can begin to let go of the many pressures and distractions which invade my mind – thus giving freedom for the creative energy of music to bloom and flourish.
With this in mind I also need times when I can find outer sacred spaces which surround me with quiet, simplicity and solitude such as a retreat in a place of beauty and tranquility. It gives me a chance to leave the busy self behind and to explore inner journeys of creativity which bring about new insights, new awakenings of transforming awareness. I am aware of sacred space being revealed and given to me in my ordinary everyday life: prayer and fragments of music will be running through my mind as I am peeling vegetables for the soup, doing household chores and the like. I am treading holy ground as I share with my family, my grandchildren and others in their joys, sorrows, celebration, depression and pain – sharing with them in the life of the cross.
It seems to me that holy ground must, first of all, come from my own heart. Realising my own vulnerability, weakness and failure, and sometimes having been on the edges of life myself, these are the places where Christ is able to enter my own heart. He gives me his strength to move outwards in love and tenderness to others and to open my heart. He enables me to share and to sow seeds of self-worth with others – seeds that are sown in the raw compost of my own life. It is in this way that we can share together in the body of Christ.
The main source of wisdom that I draw from comes from Scripture – which I came to very late in life. I have also loved the writings of the early Church, the mystics and many others who revealed to me this wonderful vision of the contemplative life – one which is, however, rooted in the activity of one’s ordinary everyday, busy life. I stumbled across Christian Meditation when I read a book by John Main many years ago. This has become an important part of my prayer life. I have gained wisdom from many people who have pointed the way for me, helped me to grow and who have been a wonderful example and witness in the way they live their lives. This, together with my church family, feeds, sustains and gives me strength for the many ups and downs of living life today.
There are many wonderful retreat houses where one experiences holy ground. I have had many retreats of a weekend, a week or ten days from which I have returned refreshed and renewed with new life. The work of retreat centre's is invaluable as they enable people to take ‘time out’ in a way that is transformative. The quiet, the silence and the peace enable us to let go of all the baggage we take with us. We can begin the inward journey in a place where we can re-evaluate what is going on in our lives; where we are ‘off centre’; where our priorities lie. The quiet of the retreat centre gives us the chance to think more clearly about decisions which have to be made; about our relationships. The power of this sacred space in this holy ground can bring us to new realities, to new understandings through prayer, through the cleansing of our minds.
I find that holy ground can be anywhere because God is everywhere when we awaken to this. I have experienced a deep sense of holy ground when visiting people in hospices and hospitals. I find it in families celebrating the birth of a newborn, in people who are grieving for a loved one, in the love that people have for one another. It is there whether it is in the light of celebration and joy or in the darkness of pain and separation. I am convinced that music can have a transformative effect in the difficult places of people's lives.
I have used music in many different outreach projects and events and I have always been amazed by the effect that music can have on people. I have especially been moved when sharing music with people in prisons, homes for the blind, residential care homes and the like. I have worked with many choirs, sharing how we can liberate our voices so that the many tensions and inhibitions which build up within us can gently be loosened. Through discovering their voice many people have found that it has increased their confidence, self-worth, joy and well-being as they experience this new creative energy which now surges through them. Singing has the power to release hardened emotional barriers and deep depression and it builds up relationships for people who sing or play in groups. Music is also very much about relationship. We can listen, sing or play together – drawn into the beauty of another world of sound and harmony, sharing and experiencing in our own particular way the unique language of music – the importance of which cannot be overestimated.
I certainly believe that music can bring people to a place of holy ground. It is a very powerful language where one can experience deep emotion. It can lead us to the holy ground as we experience, through the centuries, the wonderful music which has been written. As an aid to bringing one’s mind to quiet, to stillness, some people find that music of a contemplative nature is helpful. The repetition of chants can also still the mind, which helps us to enter holy ground with simplicity and wonder – resting in the presence of the Spirit and letting ourselves be renewed and revitalised. It is wonderful to see how music transforms people as we unite with the Spirit deep within the music – enabling us to give ourselves unconditionally to others as we are drawn more and more fully into the creative silence of the Holy Spirit deep within us. In this way we know that we are lovingly held in the holy ground of the present and eternal moment.
Margaret Rizza is a patron of the Retreat Association. She studied at the Royal College of Music and the National School of Opera, London, and continued her training in Siena and Rome, Italy. She sang professionally for 25 years under such conductors as Benjamin Britten, Igor Stravinsky and Leonard Bernstein. She then went on to teach singing at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama, London, from 1977 to 1994. In 1986 she dedicated herself to the work of spirituality and to the wider aspect of music in the community. She began composing in 1997, her contemplative choral music being widely acclaimed. Her many CDs include The Fire of Love, Awakening in Love, Mysterium Amoris and Officium Divinum, released by Convivium Records 2013.