As some of you know, I have been joining in with Jazz Community Church’s online worship throughout the pandemic. As well as getting to know a lovely lunch of talented, creative people, this has lead to some opportunities to arrange and compose for the church which has taken my work in a different direction. I’ve also enjoyed the jazz listening sessions on Zoom which have had listeners from across the world joining in.
Over the last year, JCC have been cultivating a new vision for the church as it emerges from lockdown. I was invited to take part in helping to discern the way forward with a new venture to create a platform for releasing new music. This will be jazz arrangements and recordings of some of their music which will resource the wider church. A really exciting project and I’m looking forward to seeing what the Lord does through this.
Anyway, the exciting news is that I’m now a trustee of the church! After some praying and thinking, and some voting in from the church members, I’m now on the trustee team and preparing to get stuck in. It’s a great honour to be asked and a privilege to serve a thriving creative Christian community. I’m looking forward to seeing where we go next!
We talk a lot about the joy of open doors, fresh opportunities and a sense of a new direction but we don’t always mention the joy that comes from closed doors. In the last month two doors have closed for me, one unexpectedly, the other was not surprising in the slightest. As with all beginnings and endings, there are mixed emotions and more questions than answers. Confusion is normal in these circumstances but once we have come to terms with the decision, it can be a great release to have one less option to think about.
Although these closed doors have different outcomes for me, they have both given me a sense of relief and a “what now?” question with them. We live in a society that actively promotes open doors and Christianity also shares this positive outlook for opportunity. However, the Bible is also clear that closed doors are a positive movement in our lives. The provision of the brook and ravens dried up for Elijah, so he moved on to the next calling which was helping the widow at Zarephath. Elijah was taken into heaven which released Elisha into a ministry that was far more powerful than his mentor’s ministry. Paul was shipwrecked and landed up preaching in places that he never would have travelled to otherwise. Ruth was widowed at young age but landed up remarrying and running a successful business.
So what can we learn from a closed door? Although it may be disappointing, it’s not always denial. God is simply removing the choices that aren’t profitable or helpful for where you are going next. He refines our vision by narrowing down the choices. I always think that it is quite exciting when a door closes as it means the Lord is preparing the way to a greater door, the door of opportunity. He is refocusing our attention on what he wants to do next, this could be something we have been praying about for a long time or a surprise from the Lord.
The hardest part of this journey is the corridor of “in-between”. Sometimes we can stand in the corridor waiting for a long time before another door opens. We are happy to receive an open door, but the waiting period between a closed door and the next one opening, is where our faith is tested. The “in-between” is the place where we most feel like we want to give up; the pressure of believing for more can push our faith to the limits. This is an important part of the process, the growth and depth our of faith is more valuable to the Lord than reaching our destination. If we are to go through the open door, we must have the strength, wisdom and character to steward what is on the other side of it. These qualities develop best in unsettled times as the uncertainly helps us to cling to the Lord and develop the deep roots needed to support the growth. The waiting time is not wasted or fruitless, but an adventure in developing ourselves and our relationship with God.
So when encountering closed doors, it helps to remember that they are closed to protect us from bad decisions, wasting time and paths that weren’t meant for us. They also indicate that there is something much greater and more exciting waiting for us, and that the preparation time is essential. If we wait patiently, a new door will open and our greatest moments will arrive.
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Many moons ago I started writing a series of blogs about being a resilient artist but the time never seemed right to publish them. I even wrote out an idea for a business called Resilient Creative but life took over and the idea stayed in a notebook. Then the pandemic hit, the world turned upside down and changed the arts arena as we knew it. One evening I was chatting to my long time colleague and friend Rachael Forsyth about the state of the arts and we pondered on how we might recover as an industry. She mentioned some thoughts she was writing about, I mentioned the previous blogs and voilà, we had a book idea.
If you’re struggling to get back into the rhythm of creating, then How To Be A Resilient Artist is for you. You may be looking to boost your creativity in some way, to find a new way of working or regain some areas of your art that have fallen apart. You’re not alone, many people go through a “wilderness” period with their creativity. It’s all part of the artistic journey. Life is full of difficult twists and turns; recession, divorce, death, illness, failed businesses and of course, the unforeseen pandemic. All of these situations are tough for anyone working in business, however the unpredictable nature of the creative industries can make this a lot tougher. For others it could be that boredom and lack of direction has brought you to a halt and you’re now not sure how to kick start your enjoyment of playing your instrument or picking up your paintbrushes. These “wilderness” periods can be confusing, disorientating and draining. They also give us the opportunity to assess where we’re going and what we want out of life and ultimately, our music. The trick is not to let the “wilderness” journey overwhelm you but redirect you.
This book is designed to give you some hope that your setback is only a season and not a life sentence! Better times will come and eventually you will feel stronger from what you have learnt through this experience. There are plenty of ideas to get the creative juices going, and stories of how we overcame obstacles and found a new way to make things work. It’s always possible to recover from the pressure and regain a rhythm of working and performing.
Whether you’re an amateur or a professional, this book has insights and tips on how to reinvigorate your creativity and regain your focus. Whatever season you are in, you can make a fresh start and discover the creativity within you.
It’s time to celebrate women and all things female. If you could describe womanhood in a few words, what would they be? Does it make you feel proud to be a woman? We’ve come so far in the last 100 years and yet in some parts of the world there is a long way to go in achieving equal rights for women. This is piece of music is about celebrating our gender, qualities and strength. A certain kind of strength and resilience that women have, we’re all born with it and life circumstances dictate how that strength and resilience will grow and develop throughout lives.
I wanted to write an anthem for women that was feisty, confident and empowering. Very much inspired by the Helen Reddy lyric “I am woman, hear me roar…”, this piece of music is for women everywhere of all ages and backgrounds. Originally conceived as a song, I felt that lyrics were getting in the way and that the music alone carried the message. This piece has been sat on my hard drive for 5 and a half years waiting for life. It was in pieces, fragments of ideas that needed putting together, but the words were getting in the way, so I ditched them and all of a sudden I had a piece of music that worked.
Recently there has been a lot of controversy in the press about women, from domestic abuse, personal safety, murder, right through to shouldering the weight of homeschooling and childcare throughout the pandemic whilst trying to work at the same time. Women’s issues have been front page news. It feels like COVID-19 created pressure that has brought these issues to the forefront of society so that discussion can lead to change. The press often represents womanhood in a negative way, and to be honest, I’m sick of that. Yes, we need to notlive in fear of abuse, violence and discrimination, but there are many facets of womanhood that the press don’t recognise such as our nurturing, caring, planning, healing qualities. Women often hold things together and bring unity and wholeness to situations. We’re creative, innovative, skilful and can bear the weight of a plethora of tasks. We are leaders and team players in all facets of life.
This is the decade of the woman. This is the time to turn the negative reports on their head and make something new and valuable from this crisis. It’s a time for a backlash against the press who would have us be portrayed as weak, subservient and put upon, and for women to speak out about how we should be treated. WOMANKIND is a piece of music for us to reclaim all that is joyous about being female and to help us celebrate our gender and identity.
It was early in 1994 when I was listening to an album in my room and received the strangest and yet beautiful experience. I was seventeen years old and had been navigating the rollercoaster of life and had got burned; I was venturing into the early beginnings of adulthood. As the music flowed over me, I began to feel something I’d never felt before. My ears homed in on the sound of the bass line: the rhythm, the frequency, the depth of the sub bass pulsating through me. But something else was happening, deeper and more ethereal than the usual listening experience. It was life changing healing on a profound, unexplainable level. There were no words spoken, just a spiritual, fulfilling moment emanating from the timbre of the music.
Largely in our western society, we negate the idea that something non-medical could bring healing and our culture is bemused by the idea of the spiritual being able to heal us. Unless it’s a medicine or treatment we can see, it’s not considered to be genuine. The general feeling is that if the medics can’t help us then there is no solution to our problem. We’ve lost our awe, wonder and respect for the divine as it removed the power from our hands. Unless we have the knowledge of how this works, we don’t see it as viable. Modern life dictates that we must understand in order to receive, whereas God wants us to receive without the borders of understanding. However, in receiving from him our knowledge of his power and omnipotence increases.
It was a unique experience for me, one that has not been replicated since in my life. The metred pulse of the bass line allowed me to receive the frequency of the Lord’s healing as it poured over me. This unusual healing touched me in a way that no counselling, therapy or medical cure could have done. The Lord’s power was able to reach places, emotions and scars that were deep within me, pulling out the root of the problem so that the divine answer to my situation had finality and no possibility of reoccurrence. I am not for a minute suggesting that we shouldn’t put our faith in medical science and psychological therapies, however, that we should start our healing process by asking the Lord which route he wanted to take.
I find it interesting that the healing only took place between myself and the Lord; no one else was in the room. There is an intimacy to this moment that was just between me and him. I do know other people that have encountered similar healing moments during worship services. Yet this isn’t something that we see in church life on a regular basis. Why? In 1 Samuel 16:14-23, we’re told that David literally drove Saul’s sickness away with music. The very act of playing the lyre soothed Saul into peace. The spiritual frequency prophetically moving through the music made him complicit and disarmed in the presence of the Lord. Only the Lord could offer Saul healing in his circumstances and music was the channel he chose to administer this.
I suspect that musicians who played on the piece of music I was listening to, had no idea how the Lord use their gifts in that recording. This begs the question for all musicians: how might God use you in your gifting? Have you asked God to use you in a greater way than you could ever imagine? And for those listening, are there preconceptions or limiting beliefs that you need to abandon in order to experience healing? To encounter the fullness that both the divine and music can offer, we must put aside our knowledge and natural understanding, so that we encounter the supernatural. Many years ago, I was improvising over an instrumental during worship, not singing words but using my voice as an instrument. Afterwards, I was approached by a woman who told me that she heard the Lord speak clearly through the sounds I was vocalising. Perhaps by not singing words, God had space to speak clearly through a different medium.
We’re all waiting for healing of some kind, perhaps we shouldn’t be asking “when will you heal me Lord?” but “by what means do you want to heal me?”. The time has come for us to be more creative in our approach to worship, intimacy with the Lord and more open to the way the Lord wants to work in our lives. It’s time to raise our expectation in what can and will do for us. If we are open to what the Lord may have for us, we may gain more in our relationship with him. He is a creative God and loves to do more for us than we can imagine.
A few months ago Callum Best interviewed me for the Hum & Buzz podcast: Making Your Music Matter. I speak about my journey as an artist and also the book that I’m writing with Rachael Forsyth about becoming a resilient artist in a post COVID-19 world.
Here’s another instrumental I composed for Jazz Community Church for the reading Mark 15:21-29 for the online Good Friday service on 1 April 2021 (that’s me reading the passage too). Thanks to Gunter Hauser for mixing the track to Adam Sanders for creating a video.
Instrumental written & performed by Helen Sanderson-White. Copyright 2021 music by Helen Sanderson-White.
Recently I have been working with Jazz Community Church and have been asked to create instrumental music for their services. Here’s an instrumental that I composed to accompany a reading of Isaiah 55 (that’s me reading the passage too).
Music written & performed by Helen Sanderson-White. Copyright 2014 music by Helen Sanderson-White adapted for this reading in 2021.
One area of life that artists are good at tracking is the change of seasons, not just in the natural world around us but in our life seasons as well. In the UK we are heading into springtime but there’s also something in the air of new spiritual season emerging. There’s excitement in the air!
I have been in a wilderness period for a long time; this season of my life has been about pruning and getting rid of things that I no longer need. A time of evaluation, contemplation and preparation in readiness for new life and waiting for opportunities and breakthroughs to come forth. Over the last few months, there have been signs in my life of a new season blowing in; little changes that seem fresh and unfamiliar. Often we feel the advent of a new season before it begins, and I certainly felt this change coming about 18 months ago. Recently, I have been offered some interesting opportunities from my music work; some things that I have waited for a long time to be asked to do. They are only small opportunities, but I realised the other day, that a prophetic word that I was given 5 years ago was beginning to show signs of fruition through these requests.
When we enter a new season, the old way of doing things no longer works. We have to move on and try new ways of doing things. The pandemic opened up a world of online concerts, church services and meetings in a way that we hadn’t experienced before. This for me was the turning point as I have been able to meet new people via Zoom without having to travel. It presented a new way of doing something I was well used to, but I had to change the way I worked to make it happen. It has broadened my audience and made meeting new audiences much easier for me.
These new music opportunities have made me excited about my work for the first time in a very long time! And I’m holding on to the things that God promised me many years ago and that he will complete the work that he started in me. Whenever new growth appears, we need to remember not to take our old wilderness mindset into the new season. For me, that means holding on to the fact that things are changing for the better and that there are great things around the corner! So rejoice with me, my season is changing! There is a season for everything, and this is a season to grow and flourish.
Last week I was interviewed by Victoria Park Baptist Church in Bristol about my song Where Are You God? This was used as part of their online church service and helped to inspire their prayers for the coming week. They asked me some deep, soul searching questions such as “do you think any good can come out the pandemic?” and we explored my reasons for being so honest with how I felt about the current global crisis. You can see the interview below.