Quietly drinking coffee on a Sunday morning, I notice an important silence. In my swang song from church life, music was central. Drinking in the solitude, I ponder the silence.
Music and those who share it have played a significant role in touching the tender places in my soul for most of my memory. When I fell in love with Jesus at church camp, it was the campfire songs with Mike and Heidi that beckoned. In college I spent hours and more singing with my friend Beth while she strummed her 12-string guitar, our songs focused on the (Jesus saves version of the) spiritual quest. Church music was similarly important over the years but admittedly less compelling, most often carrying me just shy of that tender place where the soul touches the sky. A notable exception was church music with my hero at the keyboard.
My hero was a classically trained musician. She was both gifted and practiced, but it was the twinkle in her eye more than her understanding of chord structures that made magic. When asked, she would smile and say that her years playing in bar bands were invaluable in leading church music. Maybe so. Whatever the case, when she sat down at the keyboard, I found myself singing from that very tender spot. And smiling. Blessed to share many years together, comfortable with the feeling of soul touching sky each Sunday morning, I grew and stretched and changed more than a little. Some changes had push back, others catapulted me forward, but always the singing on Sunday mornings put my heart back in order.
For more years than I can count we shared a running joke about our work at church, that whether we stayed or left we did so together. But as is the case with all jokes, the humor points to a place of vulnerability. As I sit now without the music, finding contentment in a wonderland made possible by its grace but without its presence, I have to confess that I do not know where the music stopped nor why. I remember tension and harsh words and unimaginable conflict, but I suspect that the music stopped before all of that. Only clear is that we are no longer in the same place and living life on life’s terms means doing so without a hero.
Recently I was privileged to sit in a church building and sing songs. The experience was pleasant save the painful memory that it touched. Awkward and slightly off-key I followed the musician, painfully aware that I was no longer at one with the sound, no longer upheld by the rhythm, no longer dancing with the wind. Rather than being at one in the moment, the moment pointed to place of loss and I wept. My instinct was to reach out for that which once was but the pathway is not open. The gift of this yearning is not retrenchment but rather a reminder to dance with the rhythm that is now. External songs may join, inspire and strengthen but always the rhythm must be found within. Lest I miss the opportunity, I honor the gift of the instinct as I let it pass unanswered.
Taoism teaches that our pain is commensurate with that to which we cling. Given that impermanence is inescapable, true happiness is attainable only as we learn to hold with open hands allowing the bird to both land and alight at will. The beauty that graced my life as I sang with Beth in college was unsolicited gift and, as we graduated, left simply and without shame. Without the structure of planned passages, the losses that life brings sometimes get kabobbled in unhelpful ways and such was the essence of my loss of church. The more we seek to keep things the same, the more the winds of time twist our grip and destroy what was once cherished. Such contortion is the essence of conflict, church and otherwise. Attempts to cling to the familiar drive wedges where bridges would otherwise gracefully sway. Nostalgia blinds us to the beauty of the moment as we reach into the mythic past. Today is imperfect but true, and only in this moment can we dance with the music that is our own.
This morning I watch the wind dance with a forgotten summer toy still hanging in the backyard. The dance is unseemly but nonetheless bears witness both to yesterday’s unfinished business and to the present beauty of the breath; the contrast of emotions providing harmonic convergence. The grayness of this late December morning would be uninspiring were it not for the quietness of the day that allows the dance of the branches to be visible, a beautiful melody in minor key. In the movement to this passage of life I’ve tasted the giddy bliss of new love and the searing pain of loss, the dance of potentially conflicting emotions has become strangely comforting. As I watch and ponder, I become aware that it is a new rhythm to which my feet now move. New and yet more primal than any that I’ve heard before, sweet with possibility and yet rich with aged sorrow, this is my song.
And it is very good.