The Communion of Souls

‘Though we are many, we are one body, because we all share in one bread’

I am missing live music.

Just under a couple of years ago I moved to a new house. I am not sure where the idea came from but after the first couple of gigs I went to from the new house, I decided to decorate my toilet door with a photo from each concert. They are not necessarily great photos but they are a daily reminder of artists, venues and festivals that I have been to – up until March this year when lockdown shut down the live music industry! The white gloss paint that remains uncovered is a harsh reminder that I haven’t been to a gig in over two months.

What is it that I miss so much? Or perhaps a more pertinent question is why won’t my vinyl or CDs suffice at this time? Why don’t live streams from artists’ front rooms satisfy this live musical itch?

Simply, it is about being there. Being there in the same room with the musicians and the audience. I have seen some great Facebook live events during lockdown. Yet, the computer screen is a sanitised barrier and I am separated from performers and audience alike and therefore a step removed from the event. No matter how many messages or emojis are sent by those viewing, this is not the same as standing in a crowd. A mass of music fans, physically close, being barged into as people make their way through the crowd looking for friends or better spaces to stand, photobombing selfies just by standing still because it is so packed. This is the feeling of becoming part of one mass. A communion of strangers.

Though we are many, we are one body.

An audience that has gathered because we have all made the decision to witness this act, on this night, in this venue. We have decided to share our evening with total strangers. We are each other’s company, and in the company of musicians. We are committed and invested, through the cost of the ticket and the giving of our time and attention. This is an event. We will all hear the same songs at the same time – one mass witness to all that goes down! Some will be in the venue because they have followed the artist since they appeared on the music scene, others will have heard friends, or critics, talk about them and want to come test the hype! Some may well be dragged along by friends or partners, but we are all there because en masse we want to hear and see these people play live. A communion of music lovers.

Though we are many, we are one body because we all share.

We pay to go to live music because we want to be in the same room as those who play. We don’t want to see them miles away courtesy of a computer screen. As much as we may love their recordings, we want that experience of seeing the artist perform, not just to sit in solitude and listen to their record. But it is more than a visual treat. The experience of a live gig immerses us in the music in a way that goes far beyond the lights, the sound and the crowd. Neurologists have found that when we observe action, the same neurons are firing in us – the observer – as are firing in the doer! This is also true for emotions – if we see someone smile the neurons associated with smiling fire in us and our spirits are lifted. As the guitarist expertly plays a searing solo the neurons that are firing in their brain set the same off in ours! As clichéd as it sounds, we are one with the band in emotion, we journey through the set list with them, every soul-searching bend of a solo searches our soul too. Every heartbroken lyric breaks ours too. Every moment of exuberant joy created by the group is a mass sharing, deep within each individual in the crowd. A communion of senses

Through we are many, we are one body because we all share in one band.

This is communion. Communion is the instant of sharing. The musical audience share more than just a devotion to the artist, more than just being at that particular event. They share on a deep level, experiencing with the band the drive, the emotion, the creativity of the music. As the same neurons fire in us all so the concert is truly an instant of sharing. Communion is intimate fellowship. Here on the tacky drink stained floor of a venue, people from different backgrounds, with different outlooks, with different heartaches and joys and at very different points in their life – here they find fellowship, an intimate connection of shared experience.

‘The peace of the Lord be always with you.’

At the heart of the communion liturgy is the sharing of peace. In this act, believers are reminded that they are called to follow the Prince of Peace and to live in peace with one another and the world. The peace is shared in the intimate fellowship of the Eucharist. The presiding minister proclaiming the words and the congregation responding

‘And also with you.’

The people are then invited to greet each other with a sign of peace. The sharing of the peace comes before the great prayer of thanksgiving and it echo’s Jesus’ teaching in Matthews gospel which urges people, if they remember that a sister or brother has anything against them, to leave their gift at the altar and go and be reconciled. In other words, in the instant of sharing peace we are brought into intimate fellowship and true communion with one another.

On Guy Garvey’s Birthday in 2017, Elbow played the Eventim Apollo, London. After the opening couple of songs, the onstage screen proclaimed the message ‘Happy Birthday Guy’ and the audience performed an impromptu chorus of ‘Happy Birthday’ to the lead singer! Birthday gifts were then passed from the audience. There was a party atmosphere in the venue and an extra connection made between audience and band.

Towards the end of the concert the band played ‘One Day Like This’. I noticed a woman to the left of me, plastic cup raised in one hand, the other tattooed arm aloft pointing to the roof, head tipped slightly back, but eyes fixed firmly on, and singing every word of the anthem to, Guy Garvey.

She was swaying and moving, sideways, through the packed crowd. Still with eyes fixed firmly on Garvey she bumped into me and bounced off me into the person in front! Her drink spilt over that person, my plastic cup was sent flying out of my hand in the direction of the stranger to my right! Taking her eyes off the stage for the first time, she turned to me smiled an apology and hugged me, while still singing along with the band!

‘The peace of the Lord be always with you.’

I hugged her back and for a line of the song we stood, total strangers, arm in arm singing ‘throw those curtains wide’ – as if we have been friends for years!

‘And also with you.’

In so many other scenarios a drunken person barging their way through a crowd, spilling their own and another’s alcohol, would create anger and aggression but in the heart of this Elbow crowd we found a connection: a communion of souls.

It was the anthemic nature of the song. It was the mutual experience of being immersed in a live performance. It was being part of the same audience on the same night and in the same place. Yet more than that, the song reached deep into our souls as the band played. When we were thrown together the connection was made in spirit.

I know nothing about her and never will but as we threw the curtains wide, arms around each other, we were two human beings with a single shared spirit.

‘May this same Spirit unite us with all your people on earth and in heaven.’

However intimate and forgiving, this was still a fleeting connection. I could have sat next to her on the tube every day for the next month and not recognised her. Yet, it was a lasting connection. It is the moment of that gig I remember most clearly, and I experienced most deeply. A perfect communion that has left a mark on my soul.

That night as I left the venue I found it easier to

‘Go in peace and to love.’

Each time I recall the event a spark of commitment jumps from the apathic embers of my heart to

‘Go in peace and to love and serve the Lord…’

(Liturgy: Methodist Worship Book)

3 thoughts on “The Communion of Souls

  1. Why are we often so inhibited in church ? Medieval traditions, Victorian primness , even fear of God ?
    Sometimes shafts of Light beam down ; smiles and laughter and joy .
    Go out with Joy .

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    1. Hi John, interesting question I think your suggestions imply a learnt behaviour rather than an openness to the joy of sharing intimate fellowship. We will have to wait to see if, when released from our enforced lockdown exile from our buildings, things change…

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  2. Many times I have heard churches labelled as ‘Happy Clappy’ in a semi derogatory fashion, when the congregation are more expressive in their praise and worship. Yet raising your face and arms to God used to be ‘normal’!

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