Saturday, October 13, 2012

Ascent in Lament

This week in Spiritual Formation, we were assigned to test out a different form of prayer than what is our normal practice.  I chose to engage in paraphrasing/re-writing a psalm. The day that I sat down to do this was full of a heaviness of spirit.  Terrible news from a friend who was hurting, difficulties with caring for Justin, and an unshakeable spiritual weight pervaded the entire day.  So, when I sat down, I turned to Psalm 130.  Psalm 130 is a very familiar text to me.  There have been multiple musical settings both in hymn and anthem form of this psalm.  Yet, the one that seems to stick with me and come to mind every time I consider this psalm is "Out of the Deep" from John Rutter's Requiem.  This second movement begins with a low, mournful cello solo.  Though the movement climaxes to a moment of powerful hope, it comes back down again, repeating the opening phrase "Out of the deep, I come to you, O Lord.  Lord, hear my voice," with the voices fading in to the cello's soft closing statement.  Because of my experience performing this movement, I most often associate Psalm 130 with lamenting and pleading before God.  Yet, I am reminded every time I open to Psalm 130 in my Bible that this is a Psalm of Ascent, meaning it is a psalm that was most likely sung by the people climbing the hill in Jerusalem when they came to worship at the Temple.  It's movement music, meant to be climactic and set the stage for the worship that would take place in the place where God's name dwells.  (Wouldn't it be interesting to see what happened if we began preparing for worship while we're in the car driving to church?) 

Below is my re-written version of Psalm 130.  I won't tell you how I reconciled with this psalm as a lament and an ascent.  I'd rather just put this out there and pray that God would speak as God will speak.  Amen.
From places deep within,
     deeper than I can fathom,
I call.  Can You hear me?
I plead.  Are you listening?
I know my inmost brokenness and sin, the chaos that
      uncreates the Creator’s order would overwhelm
if You leave me untouched.
Yet, I praise the Most High,
     for in active forgiveness,
God restores me.

For a little while, I wait.
Though I am impatient,
     I remain hunkered down,
because to wait for God is to wait for the One
who is more necessary than breath.
All people—Hope!
Proclaim with a shout and whisper with awe:
God is true in love and vast in redeeming;
God is the Forgiver.

Saturday, October 6, 2012

Disabled Dating: Spills and Bruises

Every Friday night, Justin and I try to go out to dinner, and every Saturday morning, we go to breakfast at Einstein's Bagels.  Fridays are about trying to be out and doing something together, usually the cheaper, the better.  Saturday morning is about getting to talk to each other.  These 18 hours are usually some of the best of our week.  Between school and work, the last half of the week doesn't allow much conversation besides the usual pleasantries and "would you stop stealing the covers!?"  This week was no different, so I was thoroughly looking forward to our dates together. 

Now, if you didn't know just how much I love my husband, you might wonder why I keep him around. We were getting ready to leave on our Friday night date, and as I leaned in for a kiss, my purse hit the joystick on Justin's chair.  For a brief moment, it looked like everything was going to remain stationary.  But, no!  After a split second of relief, the chair started moving forward with neither of us knowing how to react, until the chair slammed into the wall and me simultaneously, and continued to fruitlessly spin its wheels while we stared at each other in shock and pain.  Did it occur to us to ever just turn the chair off?  Nope.  The chair probably spun out for 30+ seconds before we formed coherent enough thoughts to reach over and hit the off button.  And notice Justin's toes crunched against the wall.  Oh, and my leg pinned between the wall and a footrest.  Thankfully, no bones were broken and the wall is probably worse off than my leg.  Some people like to start off a date night with a drink or small talk on the way to the restaurant.  For us, it's just not a date if someone isn't bruised by the main course.

This theme carried into our Saturday morning bagel date.  We at our usual Einstein's, partaking of our usual bagel and drinking the same cup of coffee we have every Saturday morning.  When we walk/roll in, they know us by name and practically have our order queued up for us.  Some of the employees even stop by our table to talk about weather, football or the other usual things.  As we're starting in on our bagels and conversation, my husband, being the highly intelligent man he is and not liking to keep a lid on his coffee, leaned over his coffee and simultaneously decided to inhale.  Coffee may smell good, but it can be rather shocking travelling up the nose.  Between the burn and his sensitive startle reflex, Justin didn't have a chance--and neither did my sweater.  As 16 oz of hot coffee flowed across the table, all I could comprehend was Justin's pained expression and the protection of my bagel, because a soggy bagel is a pitiful thing.  Justin and my bagel managed to recover nicely, but my sweater, jeans, and shoe (yes, shoe!) did not meet with such a favorable fate. 

I had a conversation with a classmate Friday morning, in which I was very honest (because I was asked) about a few of the practical difficulties of having a husband in a wheelchair without full time employment.  This classmate did not seem to know what to do with us, and said, "Well, this must be very difficult."  As much as I tried to reassure this person that we are joyful and trust in God's provision even when we do not understand, they said three or four times, "But, this must be difficult for you." You know, it is difficult, but that's not an attitude in which I am allowed to dwell.  This weekend's date experiences were not particularly easy, but they weren't irrecoverable either.  We ended up having a good time and great conversation after both mishaps and were even able to reflect on how these situations have the ability to shape our empathy and active compassion for others if we will allow God to use our circumstances in that way. 

This is just diabled dating.  I may end up with spills and bruises, but God has a way of taking pains and stains, and redeeming them into something more beautiful.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Performing in Church

Perhaps one of the hardest aspects of being a church musician is making mistakes.  I mean, preachers make mistakes all the time, as do lay people.  And, though they may feel uneasy about the mistakes, it's kind of come to be expected that that's going to happen.  You just have to hope that the mistake you make isn't about the name of the church's largest giver or calling God "She" (oh wait, is that really a mistake!?).

But, being a musician in church, at least for me, is difficult because I feel like there's an expectation that we shouldn't make mistakes--we're performers, after all!  Never mind that the making of a CD or a movie is full of mistakes that no one ever gets to see.  When I'm at the organ during a church service, I don't have the luxury of saying, "Oh man, that D# gets me every time!" or "Please have grace for me, I've had the worst week."  No, the mistakes happen without any opportunity to laugh at it or explain it.  So, whether this is really how people in the pew think or not, I can start to feel like I'm judged by what happens in that 3 minute hymn--like my entire worth as a church musician is wrapped up in that one moment.  And, if I manage to make it satisfactorily through that hymn, then there will be another one in a minute that throws up the gauntlet once again. 

Seems pretty backwards and futile, doesn't it?  Who of us isn't going to make mistakes?  Sometimes there will be blatant ones (like when I missed the 2nd ending on a hymn today), and other times it will be little things that only I and a handful of other people know about.  But, as I'm discovering, surviving this road has very little to do with more or less practice.  It has a lot more to do with grace.  Nobody else can give me the grace I need to give myself.  And thankfully, when I can't give myself grace, God reminds me that the giving and not-giving of grace is not my choice--it's God's. 

So, when I don't get showered with flowers after playing a hymn particularly well, and no one seems to notice this or that I practiced so hard on my prelude, it's OK.  Performing in church is not like performing on stage.  Performing in church is a constant conversation of grace between God and God's people, and my mistakes are less important to God than my willingness to participate.