Choirs at St. Alban’s sang a little gem this past Sunday as the communion motet. It wasn’t until I was doing just a quick look last week for something else online that I came across the same piece, credited to a different composer and having one word of its title changed from what I was used to. As we know, scholarship can raise as many questions as it answers, and in this case music historians opened my eyes to something I’ve known intuitively but hadn’t fully appreciated. A single word made that happen.
I am talking about a brief choral work by Orlando Gibbons, O Lord, increase my faith. It’s a sweet, poignant piece that asks God to give us wisdom, charity and patience as we deal with all the troubles of this life. It’s a personal plea for God’s presence in our lives and a final bidding to Jesus to please say Amen to our request.
Gibbons probably didn’t compose this work, however, and it is now credited to a near-contemporary of his, Henry Loosemore. But Loosemore’s work is titled O Lord, increase our faith. Our faith. The single pronouns of Gibbons’ text are all replaced with plural ones, and everything changes. Without wanting to diminish the importance of personal prayers, how much more powerful it is to say corporate prayers. All of us asking for the same thing – God’s presence in our collective life. Not a bad wish for our collective world.
Church is, after all, a collective experience. Every Sunday we say a Creed, some aspect with which we might, from one day to the next, disagree or question. In that case, perhaps we can count on reciting a Creed together in the belief, or at least the hope, that every word of the Creed is held close to the heart by at least one person saying our collective prayer. Many parts coming together as one – isn’t that church? To put it more bluntly and in contemporary wording – it’s not about you. To say “our” anything implies more than agreement and cohesion. It also implies multiple ways of thinking and being that co-exist under a big tent. Our family, our country, our church. As the tent increases in size, so will the largeness of our faith.