Freedom Song: Faith, Abuse, Music and Spirituality

A Lived Experience of Celebration

by June Boyce-Tillman (Author)
©2018 Monographs XXIV, 534 Pages
Series: Music and Spirituality, Volume 6


This book is an autobiographical account of the development of an authentic interiority. It charts the way in which the Christian faith in which the author was enculturated was refined by her lived experience of music, abuse, forgiveness, interfaith dialogue, gender and vocation (into teaching and priesthood). The author describes how music and spirituality can create a route into forgiveness by creatively transforming («mulching») childhood abuse into celebration. Her work challenges established therapeutic models and suggests a variety of alternative tools, including created ritual.
The volume is set out as a series of meditations on the themes contained in the Lord’s Prayer; it can be read in separate sections, as well as in its totality. The author’s life is perceived as a crystal that can be viewed through various lenses, illustrated by different styles of writing. These include narrative accounts written in a personal style; hymns, songs and poems that condense her thinking around a theme; and more academic reflection, using other people’s writing and experiences to understand her own.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the author(s)/editor(s)
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Contents
  • List of Figures
  • Acknowledgements
  • Prelude: Trying to Be Good
  • Structure
  • Life Journey
  • Timeline
  • Chapter 1: Our: Belonging
  • Introduction
  • Family
  • Dancing Classes
  • School
  • Church
  • University
  • Schools’ Work
  • Marriage and Motherhood
  • Societies
  • Divorce
  • Interfaith Dialogue
  • Home
  • Winchester
  • Small Groups
  • Rediscovery
  • Neighbourhood Community
  • Identity
  • Music
  • Edgewalkers
  • Summary
  • Chapter 2: Father: A Distant Beloved
  • Introduction
  • Driving
  • Anxiety
  • My Marriage
  • Looking at Life
  • His Death
  • His Legacy
  • Summary
  • Chapter 3: Who Art in Heaven: Death of a Friend
  • Introduction
  • The Undertaker
  • The Body
  • Funeral Rites
  • Making Sense of Death
  • The Process of Dying
  • Her Life
  • Her Illness
  • The Hospice
  • The Vision
  • Return to Real Life
  • Priesthood
  • The Cost
  • The Angels
  • The Death
  • The Funeral
  • Summary
  • Chapter 4: Hallowed Be: Indigenous Traditions
  • Introduction
  • The Healing
  • Tarot
  • Goddesses
  • Pagan Customs
  • Celtic Christianity
  • Summary
  • Chapter 5: Thy Name: A Woman’s Place
  • Introduction
  • The Gender of God
  • Jesus
  • The Trinity
  • The Ascension
  • Feminism
  • Women in Music
  • Malta
  • Wisdom Theology
  • Exclusion and Inclusion
  • Interfaith Dialogue
  • Idolatry
  • Gender
  • Summary
  • Chapter 6: Thy Kingdom Come: The Dignity of Difference
  • Introduction
  • The Neighbourhood Festival
  • The Development of the Interfaith Sharing
  • Space for Peace
  • Extending the Project
  • Dialogue Moving Forward
  • The Way Forward
  • Christianity and Judaism
  • Summary
  • Chapter 7: Thy Will Be Done: The Vocation to the Priesthood
  • Introduction
  • Growing Up
  • London
  • Transcendental Meditation
  • Motherhood and the Church
  • Finding Hildegard
  • The Movement for the Ordination of Women (MOW)
  • Answering the Call
  • St James’, Piccadilly
  • Returning to the Course
  • The Vestments
  • The Gestures
  • The Local Church
  • Desperation
  • The Parting of the Ways
  • Preaching
  • Priesthood in Various Contexts
  • Summary
  • Chapter 8: In Earth: Ecotheology
  • Introduction
  • Childhood
  • The Garden
  • The Natural World and Mystery
  • Animals
  • Caravan Life
  • Summary
  • Chapter 9: As It Is in Heaven: The Liminal Space
  • Introduction
  • A Celtic Moment
  • The Other World
  • Shamanic Journeying
  • The Sweat Lodge
  • The Five Rhythms
  • Angels
  • The Near-Death Experience
  • Visionaries
  • Exorcism
  • The Barrier Reef
  • Bali
  • Norway
  • Jerusalem
  • The Alister Hardy Trust
  • Summary
  • Chapter 10: Give Us This Day: Gratitude
  • Introduction
  • My Granddaughter, Scarlett
  • My Missing Family
  • The Natural World
  • Healers
  • Close Friends
  • The Eucharist for the Abused
  • Opening Sentence
  • Dedicating Eucharists
  • A Special Liturgy
  • Holidays
  • The University of Peace
  • Poland
  • Travelling Gratefully
  • Summary
  • Interlude: On Not Becoming a Woman
  • Chapter 11: Our Daily Bread: Food
  • Introduction
  • Childhood
  • Dieting
  • Food
  • Dreams of Cooking
  • The Eucharist
  • Summary
  • Chapter 12: And Forgive Us Our Trespasses: Forgiveness
  • Introduction
  • The Marriage
  • Forgiveness
  • Trespassing
  • Liturgies of Separation
  • Summary
  • Chapter 13: As We Forgive Those Who Trespass Against Us: A Good Friday Thing
  • Introduction
  • The Abuse
  • The Death
  • The Journey
  • The Meeting
  • The Conversation
  • The Ordination
  • The Leaving
  • The Parting
  • Easter Fire
  • The Legacy
  • Summary
  • Chapter 14: And Lead Us Not into Temptation: Motherhood
  • Introduction
  • My Elder Son, Matthew
  • The Australian Lecture Tour
  • Richard, My Younger Son
  • The Onset of Temptation
  • Clearing Out
  • The Legacy of Guilt
  • Summary
  • Chapter 15: But Deliver Us: A Box Full of Darkness
  • Introduction
  • The Journey
  • Psychiatry
  • Process or Product
  • The Context
  • The Music
  • The Repressed Feminine
  • Lamenting the Failures
  • The Role of Anger
  • Mysticism
  • The Container
  • Loneliness
  • Feeing Loved
  • The Chants
  • De Profundis
  • Summary
  • Chapter 16: From Evil: Re-Balancing
  • Introduction
  • Confusions
  • Compensation for the Accident
  • Rituals
  • People
  • Holy Rood House
  • Music
  • Performances
  • Travel
  • Arthritis
  • Sport
  • Balancing
  • Summary
  • Chapter 17: For Thine Is the Kingdom: A Vocation to Teaching
  • Introduction
  • My Journey
  • My First Schools
  • The Grammar School
  • The Centre for Young Musicians
  • Teaching and Motherhood
  • The Local Primary School
  • The Local Comprehensive School
  • The Institute of Education
  • A Lecturer in Higher Education
  • International Reputation
  • My Research
  • World Musics
  • The Professorship
  • Foundation Music
  • Doctoral Supervisor
  • Arts as Wellbeing
  • Spirituality at Work
  • Summary
  • Chapter 18: The Power: The Birthing
  • Introduction
  • Rebirthing
  • My Birth
  • Early Childhood
  • The Blaming
  • Her Power
  • My Entry into Music
  • Her Effort
  • Her Expectations
  • Her Decline
  • My Own Motherhood
  • The Virgin Mary
  • My Mother’s Last Appearance
  • The Motherhood of God
  • Summary
  • Chapter 19: And the Glory: Affirmation
  • Introduction
  • The Journey
  • The Presentation
  • Travelling
  • Croning
  • National Acknowledgements
  • Summary
  • Chapter 20: For Ever and Ever: To the End of My Days
  • Introduction
  • My House
  • Teaching
  • Preaching
  • Liturgy
  • Composing and Conducting
  • Interfaith
  • Books
  • Broadcasting
  • Speed
  • Spiritual Direction
  • Summary
  • Chapter 21: Amen: The Interior Castle
  • Introduction
  • Encountering God
  • Prayer
  • Childhood
  • Meditation
  • Specific Occasions
  • Recalling the Still Place
  • The Golden Crucifix
  • The Labyrinth
  • Building the Interior Castle
  • Mindfulness
  • Angels
  • Midday Office
  • Evening Prayer
  • Summary
  • Postlude: Mulching Experience
  • Bibliography
  • Index
  • Series index

| ix →


Figure 1: The author and her parents at their home in Redbridge (approx. 1958).

Figure 2: The author at MA graduation in the grounds of St Hugh’s College, Oxford.

Figure 3: The author conducting.

Figure 4: Space for Peace programme.

Figure 5: Community Choir in the Lady Chapel at Winchester cathedral.

Figure 6: Participants in Space for Peace.

Figure 7: The rabbi and the imam sing together.

Figure 8: Meditative artistic activity in Space for Peace.

Figure 9: The harmonium player.

Figure 10: Hildegard of Bingen (1098–1179). Vision of angels.

Figure 11: The author preaching.

Figure 12: The author with her grand-daughter Scarlett.

Figure 13: The author at Sir John Tavener’s doctorate award celebration with the Vice Chancellor of the University of Winchester, Professor Joy Carter and the Chancellor, Dame Mary Fagan.

Figure 14: Sewing Machine.

Figure 15: Richard and Matthew aged about five and eight.

Figure 16: The author with Professor Grenville Hancox.

Figure 17: The author and her mother.

Figure 18: The author aged about two.

Figure 19: The author (in the front) with her mother’s family. ← ix | x →

Figure 20: The author aged eleven with a challenge cup from the music festival

Figure 21: The author with her sons after the MBE ceremony

Figure 22: The author with drum

Figure 23: The author conducting in Winchester Cathedral

| xi →


This book records my lived experience. Many people, both professional colleagues and personal friends, have helped me along the way. I am particularly grateful to Michael O’Sullivan for his work on Authentic Interiority and Bernadette Flanagan, who encouraged me in the early stages of the writing. I am grateful to the people whose stories are here, such as my good friends, Estelle Jorgensen and Iris Yob and my own family. I have tried to name them in my story while anonymising people who I have not regarded as helpful. The text contains poems which often contain the emotions of a situation better than prose. It also contains writing for liturgical contexts, including published and unpublished hymns and songs. I am grateful to many feminist friends who have been prepared to experiment with me (Boyce-Tillman 2014) and the liberation they achieved for me. Collaboration with Kay Norrington and the Southern Sinfonia has enabled me to develop my composing and conducting skills. Here the access to Winchester Cathedral as a performance space is due to the Very Rev James Atwell whose view of the cathedral as a place for everyone has informed not only the access that he gave to so many different groups of people but also the spirit in which that access has been granted. I am grateful to Elaine Wisdom and Elizabeth and Stanley Baxter at Holy Rood House, Centre for Health and Pastoral Care, Thirsk, Yorkshire where many of my initial ideas were interrogated. I am sad that Stanley will not see it. The Sisters of the Church (with whom I am an associate) when they were at Ham Common have supported me very effectively through much of this journey, especially Sister Aileen.

In the production of this book I am grateful to Pat Pinsent for editing and proof reading and to my good friend Sarah Van den Driessche for a final reading. The University of Winchester provided research support. My colleague Dr Malcolm Floyd helped me to develop many of the ideas and Dr Olu Taiwo contributed a great deal to my understanding of other cultures. Dr Ian Sharp helped me with my entrance into the world of hymnody. Dr Sarah Morgan (Morgan and Boyce-Tillman 2016) appears many times, not least ← xi | xii → in our uplifting funeral. The late Professor Mike LLewellyn, Professor Paul Light, Professor Elizabeth Stuart, Professor Joy Carter, Dr David Walters, Dr Nicola Barden, Dr Terry Biddington, the Rev Chris Day and Professor Simon Jobson have supported my work in a variety of ways. At North West University, South Africa, I am grateful to Professor Hetta Potgieter and Liesl van der Merwe for their continued encouragement and opportunities to share my work. Many friends have encouraged me along the way, especially the Rev Wilma Roest, the Rev Bill Scott, the Rev David Page, Sue Lawes, Dr Carol Boulter, Canon Brian Thorne, Dr Marian Liebmann, Jill Simmonds, Professor Michael Finnissy, Adriana Marian, Ianthe Pratt and Myra Poole. I am very grateful to Lucy Melville at Peter Lang for her encouragement in setting up the series Music and Spirituality, in which this book sits. All of these people encouraged me to write this book. I hope that it will enrich other people’s journeys.

I am grateful to my two sons – Matthew and Richard and my granddaughter, Scarlett – some of whose stories appear in this book – for their continued encouragement of my creative enterprises. I have written this book so that they will know my story from my lips rather than by sorting through my possessions. It is dedicated to them.

| xiii →

Prelude: Trying to Be Good

I’ve tried to be good,

For I know that I should,

That’s my prayer at the end of the day.

This prayer from Donald O’Keefe, whose ballad At the end of the day was much sung during the Second World War and popularised by Harry Secombe, was my party piece when I was quite young. Somehow it reached my innermost being.1 This is perhaps because deep in the human condition is a desire to make meaning out of their existence. This is the story of my attempt to live authentically:

living from a state of relational self-presence of a particular kind. The kind of self-presence I have in mind is not static but dynamic. It is grounded in a capacity for self-transcendence that empowers the person to function in his or her common human knowing and choosing … relationality, reflectivity, responsibility, and reflexivity, that fidelity to beauty, intelligibility, truth, goodness and love, requires in the concrete.2

He sees this disciplined practice as transformative (O’Sullivan 2012). I have used O’Sullivan’s analytical frame to interrogate my own authentic interiority within the Christian tradition, although it often critiques this. It is an example, of how lived experience may challenge external authority. This long journey reflects my basic curiosity, which has resulted in my exploration of many of the rooms referred to in Jesus’s statement that his Father’s House contains mansions.3 Whereas some people are content to live in a single room in that mansion, I have wandered around it, sometimes ← xiii | xiv → solemnly, sometimes playfully (Crawley 2016). So I have worked towards authenticity by making use of elements from a variety of other religious/spiritual traditions; nevertheless, I was enculturated into Christianity. So it is the central prayer of Christianity, the Lord’s Prayer, that is the one which provides the underlying framework for my personal story.


This book is a meditation on a journey into God – an understanding of the multi-faceted nature of the Divine. Many chapters are accounts of episodes where the everyday and spiritual are intimately bound together, so linking interiority with materiality. Philip Sheldrake sees the need to bring these back together; so that interiority is linked with social existence, the experiential with action and an elevated sense of the spiritual with the mundane (Sheldrake 2016). Themes such as repentance, reconciliation, the use and misuse of power, community, creativity and forgiveness run throughout the book and are drawn together in the postlude.

This series of meditations on the themes of this prayer are a means of reflecting on my interiority; the book can be read in separate sections as well as in its totality; and need not necessarily be read in the order set out here which follow the pattern of the Lord’s Prayer. I have used a variety of different styles of writing: narrative accounts in a personal style; hymns, songs and poems that condense my thinking around a theme; together with some sections in a more academic style, using other people’s writing and experiences to understand my own.4 This pattern sees my life as a crystal viewed through a number of different facets in line with the academic methodology of crystallisation:

At the end of each chapter are questions which are posed in the hope that the book will enable readers to reflect on their own life journeys.

Life Journey

The use of the framework of the Lord’s Prayer means that the structure is not chronological. So I will begin with an overview of my life. This starts with the story of two families who lived next door to one another in the New Forest. One family was the result of the marriage between a seamstress with acute asthma (who died ten years before I was born) and a gardener on the great estates, who sang tenor in a church choir for fifty years. The younger of their two daughters, my mother, was a woman with a number of complex problems.

The other family resulted from the marriage between the daughter of a diplomat, who had been cut off without a penny, because her husband was below her station: the village postmaster who was also the village dance band pianist. (My first encounter with the piano was sitting next to him while he played dance tunes.) They had two sons: the elder died aged twelve, while the younger, my father, was a very frightened man, afraid almost of his own shadow.

My mother worked as a secretary, a job she gave up when I was born as she wanted to devote her life to her child. My father left school at fourteen and was apprenticed to a refrigeration repair firm. He worked with them until he retired at sixty-five and died after six months.

They waited over ten years for a baby, who was conceived during the war – my father being too frail to be in the army. My forty-year-old mother’s waters broke at six months and it looked as if her long sought-after baby would be still-born. She was rushed to a cottage hospital in the New Forest ← xv | xvi → where she was given ‘twilight sleep’. The baby was born and given to her mother as her ‘June’ baby – so June I stayed.

Figure 1: The author and her parents at their home in Redbridge (approx. 1958).

We all went to Church regularly and my mother was very religious. Church played a very significant part in our life together and I was immersed in rural Anglican Church life from my earliest days.

In the war, during the frequent raids on Southampton I was put in the Anderson shelter in a neighbour’s garden while the adults huddled in the house with their heads under the table, though their bottoms very vulnerable (so I am told!). One part of an internal wall in our bungalow was damaged; a cornice regularly fell out when a door was slammed.

The difficult parts of my childhood involve:

Repeated sexual abuse by members of my close family and others

My mother having a nervous breakdown when I was three and my being sent to live with my aunt and cousins, where I began to be bullied

Partial loss of sight at seven, with no one to tell ← xvi | xvii →

Regular and repeated bullying in a girls’ grammar school which involved associating with a social class that I was not prepared for – classmates were both jealous of my intelligence and critical of my shape and social class

No close friendships until about twenty years old

The onset of depression

The good parts are:

I went to Oxford, in 1962, to read Music, in the face of opposition from my headmistress, who wanted me to read Latin and Greek. Out of my social class, I felt exposed and terrified of making a mistake. The academic work was easy compared with the social life.

Oxford was sexist. In our year in Music, there were thirty-six men and six women, with lecturers who wished women were not there. We women were ill-prepared for the course: three of the group failed prelims and were sent down. Misogynist jokes were the order of the day and what the course taught me, through its hidden curriculum, was that since I was not old, male, deaf, a German or Italian speaker, I was not the sort of person who could compose or be a real music leader.

I came to London to do a PGCE in 1966 and lived in a Christian community in Kensington Church Street. The local Anglican Church was somewhat unfriendly; so I joined the Methodists in Notting Hill, where they were experimenting with liturgy after the race riots. The Ecumenical Centre in Notting Hill brought the churches together under Brian Frost, a prominent and radical Methodist; at the Centre, songs were being written ← xvii | xviii → and festivals being organised and I met Ianthe Pratt, a liturgical innovator, to whom I owe a profound debt. This was my first encounter with real liturgical innovation.

Figure 2: The author at MA graduation in the grounds of St Hugh’s College, Oxford.

I had never seen poverty on this scale. I had never worked alongside different races before. I became a social activist – sang protest songs and learned the guitar. I wish I had taken joint membership of the Methodist Church as the Anglican/Methodist conversations were happening then; ← xviii | xix → despite this, I was on the leaders’ meeting during my time, because Notting Hill Methodists were concerned with ecumenism.

I decided not to teach in a girls’ grammar school but to experiment with exploring composing with primary school children. This was a new venture then, and I still remember the anxiety in the early days. Eventually, I did become head of music at Burlington grammar school for girls and ran multiple choirs, orchestras and folk groups that appeared on radio and television. They were halcyon days. I was in the right place at the right time doing the right thing. I wrote books about composing with children.

I married and left teaching to give birth to my first child. This was a complex and dark time. My father became ill and died when I was six months pregnant. He knew he would never see his first grandchild, for whom my mother was then knitting wildly. His death left me with the two things that were going to be most difficult, simultaneously: becoming a mother myself, and caring for my own mother, who proceeded to die slowly during the next seven years, most of them with me. She was soon doubly incontinent and unable to walk; I had, in effect, three children. During the same period, my mother-in-law developed cancer and died, so we had lost three grandparents by the time the children were about seven. I remember the time as a nightmare: too many demands and very little support. I threw myself into playgroups with the children and experimented with allowing very young children to explore sound. I set up a Family Centre and gradually crept back into teaching as my own children started school. I taught composing in a variety of educational contexts and started a PhD on children composing.

The negative parts of this period are:

The good parts are:

My life was held together by transcendental meditation,5 which took me into Hinduism although I still went to church. Eventually, this turned into a contemplative tradition that has held me together through it all. Regular retreats enabled me to survive

It also started my interfaith journey, which has taken me into many of the traditions and enabled me to synthesise a number of new ideas and practices into my own faith. I organised an interfaith act of sharing. Throughout it all, I was centred in my Christian practices of the Eucharist and prayer

I encountered the Holy Fools and especially Sandra Pollerman, who enabled me to find the humour within myself

I started to get involved in feminist theology and see how feminist thought could enable me to understand my situation

My professional reputation grew. I had a PhD and went on lecture tours, including a six-week one of Australia

I wrote and edited a number of books in the area of music education

Eventually I was divorced. I took on a mortgage that might have lasted till the age of seventy. I moved out of my house. The boys’ father and I were given joint custody and care and control; so the children moved between us. The Inner London Education Authority was closing; I had no idea what would happen to my part-time income. So I took a job in music education at Winchester and arranged a life moving between the two cities.

I managed to get out of the clutch of the psychiatric services and discovered a great deal of alternative therapy in the New Age, which enabled me to put the medication behind me. At that point, I became aware of the extent of the complexity of the hand that my childhood had dealt me. Many of my memories had been hidden up till then. ← xx | xxi →

I started to write hymns and compose other pieces. I entered into experimental liturgy groups, many of them composed of women. I dealt with my childhood story by means of liturgy and composing and poetry. I broke off relationships with my mother’s family while working at my relationship with her.

I had a love/hate relationship with Church with all its dilemmas about women’s authority but eventually, after a long journey, fulfilled the vocation to be a priest that I had had since the age of five.

While my own temperament, with its highs and lows, is difficult to manage, my faith helps me to do so. This story is really about how this aspect of my life has worked to enable me to develop an authentic interiority. I have begun to trust a circle of close friends and to share my story, both musically and in words, with wider groups of people. This book is really an attempt to see the way in which all of my life hangs together.

I find trust extremely difficult, as my earliest experiences of people were that they were untrustworthy. God will always be more reliable for me than people. That Divine love is for me most safely expressed through the natural world. My creativity has enabled me to transform my complex childhood into something beautiful. I have been very fortunate.



XXIV, 534
ISBN (Softcover)
Publication date
2018 (November)
Creativity as transformation spiritual authenticity celebration
Oxford, Bern, Berlin, Bruxelles, Frankfurt am Main, New York, Wien, 2018. XXIV, 532 pp., 23 fig. b/w

Biographical notes

June Boyce-Tillman (Author)

June Boyce-Tillman, MBE, read music at Oxford University and is Professor of Applied Music at the University of Winchester. She has published widely in the area of music and education, most recently on spirituality/liminality. Her doctoral research into children’s musical development has been translated into five languages. She is the artistic convenor of the Winchester Centre for the Arts as Wellbeing and the Tavener Centre for Music and Spirituality as well as being an Extraordinary Professor at North West University, South Africa. She is also an ordained Anglican priest and honorary chaplain to Winchester Cathedral


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