29 November 2009
Geoffrey Gates - a tribute to a great supporter of West Australian Ballet
VALE DR GEOFFREY GATES AM
Today we celebrate the life of a remarkable man, whose generosity and warmth and care and consideration for people endeared him, not only to the people of this Cathedral, but to the many communities in which he was involved.
But as far as this Cathedral was concerned, he was as committed and caring here as he had been so successfully in a lifetime of distinguished medical practice.
And this commitment and care underpinned Geoffrey's outlook on life.
People mattered to him in a most extraordinary, deep way.
Of course this inner drive, this innate consideration for people, had become focused sharply in those years of distinguished medical service.
Geoffrey was strenuously concerned for what makes life worth living, and his concern for people's wholeness and healing, and proper fulfilment, became the hallmark of his professional career.
And this priority he maintained well after he retired from active medical service. In important ways he consistently contributed toward the relief of others in difficult circumstances.
A weekly purchase of items for the Women's Refuge testified to his ongoing commitment to the well-being of others, especially those in less fortunate circumstances, those whose luck was down, and whose backs were against the wall.
His whole life became a ministry of love and care for people, which we acknowledge, and for which we give thanks today.
In fact, it would not be too much to say that he found the satisfaction of life in the life of others.
This was certainly the basis of the nine blissful and happy years he spent, or, as he said on more than one occasion - that he was ‘'privileged to spend' with Patricia.
And his last public act in the context of the Cathedral life he enjoyed so much was the meticulous organisation of a birthday cake for Patricia, presented to her as a surprise just a few Sundays ago.
How he kept it as a surprise for Patricia remains an authentic miracle, since every single person in the Cathedral knew about it; but nevertheless, surprise it was, and it was a surprise in which Geoffrey took great pride, and a moment of joy which neatly encapsulated his great love for Patricia.
That wonderful gesture, accompanied by the equally sensational surprise visit of Patricia's twin sister from England for the birthday celebrations, made Geoffrey's wish for the perfect gift complete.
There is no doubt that Geoffrey's passion, in the context of the life of the Cathedral, was the arts.
This is a Cathedral where the arts are nurtured and encouraged to thrive, and Geoffrey was outstanding in his desire for this important aspect of our mission to be nurtured and to thrive.
His commitment was nothing short of inspirational.
His great love of music and ballet conspired to enlist his incredibly generous support for the spectacular performance in this Cathedral of Mozart's Requiem by Joseph and the Cathedral Consort, with the internationally acclaimed West Australian Ballet, under the inspired leadership of Ivan, Eva, and Stephen.
Without Geoffrey and Patricia's support, we at the Cathedral would not have been in a position for this performance to go ahead.
Similarly has Geoffrey's support been crucial for the progress of our Cathedral Concert series, Art Exhibition, and our enhancement of the West Organ with the addition of a much needed extra stop.
I know I speak on behalf of Joseph and Stewart and all the members of our Cathedral Choir and Cathedral Consort when I express heart-felt thanks for Geoffrey and Patricia's support for music and the arts in this Cathedral he loved so much.
And I know I can also speak for Ivan, and Eva, and Stephen, and all the gifted members of the West Australian Ballet, who work so tirelessly to enhance the artistic life of this city and the state of Western Australia, when I say that in Geoffrey we were privileged to have at our side a patron whose support and generosity made the most sublime artistic creations possible.
When we experience beauty, we experience God.
We don't need to put God into art. God is already there. We don't need to make art religious. Art is already religious.
Geoffrey loved art. And so Geoffrey loved God.
Music and the arts enmesh us in the intimacy of the divine. Through the beauty of music and dance and all art we are led to the heart of God in chains of gold, as the Renaissance composer Thomas Morley once famously remarked.
We can argue and cavil intellectually over the nature and revelation of God in theological and scholarly terms. It's great fun. It's challenging. I love it.
But we need always to take care, for sometimes the search for precise theological meaning can get in the way of God.
For ultimately, for all of us, we will know when we have experienced God only when something moves and touches in a special and intimate way.
As for describing this moment, none of us will be able to do any better than the prophet Jo, (4:15), who knew he had experienced the presence of God when, as he said, "a spirit passed before my face, and the hair of my flesh stood up."
Music and dance and the arts evoke within us a sensation of otherness, of a dimension, a reality beyond our immediate apprehension, and then, according to the psalmist, (61:3), we are set up on a rock that is higher than ourselves. The arts invite us to enter the numinous, as the theologian Rudolf Otto expressed it. They facilitate our engagement with the mysterious grandeur of God.
And so it was, through his appreciation and love for the arts, especially for the music of Elgar, Beethoven, Vierne and the whole range of later French composers, Geoffrey was able, not only to experience the loving dimensions of God for himself, but also, through his commitment to their performance, he made it possible for us all to feel that divine spirit pass before our face.
But it would be wrong to suggest that Geoffrey's grasp of the numinous was restricted to the arts.
There is much misunderstanding about faith these days.
This Christian faith does not speak of an idea towards which we must strive, nor does it speak of a code or set of principles, or doctrinal propositions which we must observe, but of a divine-human society of people.
It is the way we behave towards each other that matters, not how we think. That is the essence of the Christian faith.
So the writer of the First Epistle of John writes, "Everyone who loves is born of God, and knows God." The point is that everyone who loves is already God's, already knows God, and already is with God.
And this is a dominant theme of John's Gospel.
John says, over and over again, imitate Christ in conduct, and fellowship with him is already a reality.
The one thing needful in this life, says John, is love, and this love is a matter of conduct. It is a matter of how we behave.
"He who keeps my commandments," says John, "he is the one who loves me." "This is my commandment:" he says, "that you love one another, as I have loved you."
"You are my friends," he goes on, "if you do whatsoever I command you."
Again, he says, "Let no-one deceive you, he that does righteousness, is righteous, even as God is righteous."
And there is no doubt that Geoffrey was one of these people to whom John was referring.
Geoffrey was someone for whom ‘doing the truth' was the most precious thing. In John's words, he behaved according to the commandments of God; he made loving and caring for others an absolute priority.
He had no time for bad religion - the kind of religion that fousses on hopelessness and guilt and the fear of retribution.
Geoffrey's life was rather a joyful pilgrimage marked with a doing of the love which is the love of God; so it was a holy journey.
His efforts encompassed the care of others, the relief of suffering, and the enabling for many to experience, through the arts, the spirit that passes before our face, as we come into the presence of God.
"Am I getting better?" Geoffrey asked Patricia, towards the end of his days.
"Yes, dear," said Patricia. And she was right.
For now Geoffrey can experience that more profound music that is the depth, and width and breadth of the love of God, of which our music and dance in this life can only give a passing glimpse, a fleeting breath.
And this is better. Much better, for now the types and shadows of this life have their ending, and give way to the glorious resurrection given to us by that God to whom we owe all praise, worship, honour and glory, this day, and to the end of the ages.
The Very Reverend Dr John Shepherd
Dean of Perth
St George's Cathedral Perth
28 November 2009