Sometimes unexpectedly a lesson creeps up behind you and grabs you by the ankles. You stumble and trip and as you lie there on the ground, you look up to see why you fell.
And there it is. Standing over you and calmly demanding your attention.
It may be something you’ve overlooked or undervalued. You may have shut your mind off to it or even felt some hostility towards it. Something not “important” or “valuable” enough to waste your time with.
It stands there waiting for you to respond. And it won’t turn away. You MUST respond.
Today it was a musical group performing for a Sunday service in a small rural church outside Honolulu.
I was hunkered over my keyboard and wrestling with the technicalities of producing a reliable template for YouTube’s conversion to HD format … which gobbledegook of terms I only recently became acquainted with ….. when I heard the unmistakeable voice of a preacher emanating from the TV behind me. The remote was on the floor beyond my reach and I was getting increasingly irritated by the “believeths” and “understandeths” and “loveths” intoned in a falsely stentorian tone.
I don’t like church sermons. I don’t like proselytizing. I found out where God was over forty years ago and haven’t wanted to listen to recitations and dogma ever since.
It was on a lovely Sunday morning in Montreal. My mother and we three sisters were playing hooky from church so we could go for a walk in the woods near our home. We were scampering around gathering trilliums to fill every vase in our home and harvesting fiddlehead ferns for supper, when Mom called our attention to a particularly lovely log. It was richly tapestried with moss and shimmering like velvet under the morning sun.
“God’s right there, sitting on that log,” she announced. And in the aura of luminous light, it seemed quite likely that He was. We all approached the log and Mom suggested we sit with God for a moment. Which we did.
That was the most powerful sermon I ever heard. It was only seven words. And I never listened to another one inside church walls unless it was to celebrate a wedding or pacify a friend at Christmas or Easter time. And even then, I always saw that mossy log behind the pulpit.
Now I hoisted myself out of my chair and reached for the remote just as the preacher brought his sermon to a close and the music began. I looked at the screen and saw a small group of people in blue satin robes playing a motley collection of instruments. A few scraggly potted palms provided their backdrop.
Another shoddy local production. Exacerbated by amateur musicians, cheap robes and a shabby setting. And punctuated by a preacher braying in a specious and ear-jarring mixture of archaic words and contemporary slang. I gritted my teeth as my fingers closed around the remote.
Then out of the cacophony of variously tuned instruments, I vaguely picked out a fragment of music from the “Messiah”. They were playing … or attempting to play … Handel. I paused and put the remote down and settled in front of the TV screen. And looked at the musicians.
They were many young people, probably in their teens. There were several seniors. There were males and females. As is usual in Hawaii, every race seemed to be represented. Asians and Blacks. Whites and Hispanics … and every possible combination of them all. The camera zoomed in on their faces and all were concentrating on the music arranged on the stands in front of them. Some frowned with the effort but others were smiling as they bowed and blew their instruments.
The conductor guided them through the limited dynamics and as the music swelled to a final crescendo, the two dozen or so musicians’ faces were alight with happiness.
So was mine.
I had nearly missed this lesson. I had nearly ignored and devalued these ordinary people living ordinary lives. Students or homemakers, breadwinners or seniors. Not privileged as I had been to study music seriously and for decades. Nor practicing six or eight hours a day. And not having the luxury of spending so much time at their instruments. These were ordinary people, not trained musicians. They were giving their time and their effort to that Sunday service in a humble little community church. And they were playing the “Messiah”, one of the most sublime pieces of music ever composed.
I sat there for a moment. For some reason I thought of the moss-covered log. And as I looked at the musicians in their satin robes, sitting in front of the three potted palms, I suddenly knew God was sitting right there with them.