Saturday, 7 June 2008

Sight Reading

People have been coming up with analogies to explain life forever – life is like a box of chocolates, life is like a tube of toothpaste, life’s a dance, life is a highway – and the list goes on. I suppose everyone sees life a little differently since I’ve never personally experienced a cocoa-flavoured fluoride-paste kind of day. I have, however, come up with a bit of a metaphor that fits my present paradigm.

Life is like an orchestra; one director, hundreds of instruments, thousands of parts, all working together to create a single, masterful, marvelous piece of music. Our director – the conductor, composer, producer and audience – has poured out His heart into writing each musician their own unique part. He knows the score inside out, and is acutely aware of everything going on in His music. He can hear every harmony, every perfect progression and movement, every vibration of our instrumental voices... and every wrong note we play.

Life would be so much easier if we were contented with playing the music given to us, but we musicians are a prideful, fickle bunch; generally unsatisfied with playing second fiddle, second horn or third clarinet, whatever the case may be. The fact is that our parts come on a cycle and we won’t always get the melody that we think we deserve. The fact is that sometimes the music we play is designed to compliment or emphasize another part. The fact is that we don’t know what’s coming. We don’t know the score.

You see, there is no time to practice for this performance. Life is 100% sight reading. As long as you pay attention and play your part with passion, flipping pages and changing keys as directed, you’ll be fine; if you’re flat once or twice, the piece will continue unharmed. It’s in the whole-note moments when the pace and slows and the melody mellows that we musicians get fidgety. It’s when we think the piece is getting a little predictable that we find ourselves in trouble. We get distracted, disengaged and restless, and just when you think you’ve got it figured out, He triples the tempo and gives you a solo! You’re left struggling to catch up, and usually looking foolish.

But when the music works... when everyone is completely engaged and we are playing together without competition or envy or spite, when we are perfectly tuned and when the balance is right... those are the moments that make everything worth it; tension evaporates as the glorious tapestry of harmony, melody and counter-melody overwhelm the senses. There is nothing else in this world that can compare to a well played life.

Block out the distractions in your life that are drawing your attention from your sheet music, listen carefully to the parts being played around you and make sure that you are keeping in tune and in rhythm with them; but most importantly and above all else, keep eye contact with your conductor. He is the one who will guide you through the rapid and the slow, the tricky and simplistic. He knows what you are capable of, and though he won’t write you something that you can’t handle, He loves to challenge and surprise. He’s conductor, composer and fellow musician; guiding us all through the symphony of life.

Wednesday, 4 June 2008

Mirror, Mirror, on the Wall. Appraise Me.

Long before Snow White’s queen stared enviously into her looking glass and begged the infamous question, people have been seeking their mirror’s approval. At some point in history, people discovered that “what’s on the outside” counts for something in this world. In today’s culture, internal things, however brilliant or beautiful, rarely capture any attention if the wrapper is pale or plain. As frequently as we remind ourselves to act to the contrary, we are all guilty of judging the book by its cover. Eventually, the cover becomes our focus, in fear that the contents will be left to collect dust on a forgotten bookshelf if the binding goes unnoticed too long. And so, we decorate, sculpt, colour and modify; then we rush to the mirror to be appraised.
How do I compare? It’s a dangerous question that too often leads into a judgmental and destructive emotional darkness. Competition is an addictive habit that is easy to begin; often the rivalry is subtle and internal. Am I better than I used to be? Am I more attractive? More intelligent? Slowly, naturally, others enter into this comparative mental dialogue. Am I as beautiful as that girl? Do I have more skill than he does? Who is stronger? Faster? Smarter? Eventually the conversation you are having within your mind spills out through your lips and into the world. Why can’t I be like them? Why am I so flawed? Why was I made this way? I am ugly. I am dirty. I am stupid. Still, we turn to the mirror for our affirmation. It reveals what we expect to see and what we are looking for. It clarifies, sharpens, emphasizes. It agrees.
I am guilty of seeking the opinions of the wall mirror (as well as a few other reflective surfaces that I pass by during the day), and I have slipped into the trap of appearances. For the past few months I have been bowing to the will of my mirror, and when I fall short of her expectations I feel even less beautiful, less valuable and more depressed than before.
When God designed the world so long ago, He did not create a mirror. There are no verses in Genesis that state, “And God said, let there be a large mirror in front of which man and woman will criticize themselves and each other. Let there be high and low fashion, separation of social classes and media, with which all people will discover and interpret their worth. And there was evening and there was morning, the first civilized day.”
In reality, be it Old Testament or modern life, the heart of God is avidly opposed to this kind of analytical attitude. He reminds us over and over that the world we cling to so desperately is a temporary and liquid place, that our worth and eternal value is completely internal, that His opinion is the only one that matters and that he created us with direct purpose, exactly to the blueprints he designed for our lives. “Do not consider his appearance or his height. The Lord does not look at what man looks at. Man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.” “Your beauty should not come from outward adornment, such as braided hair or the wearing of gold jewellery and fine clothes. Instead, it should be that of your inner self, the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is of great worth in God’s sight.” “For you created my innermost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well.” It’s so simple.
How often we complicate simplicity.
From time to time, the mirror still catches my attention. Every once in a while she pinches my ego or bruises my pride, but I’m learning to let most of her criticism roll off my back. As a Christian, my significance comes from God, and I already know what he thinks of me. I know that I am loved; a passionate, profound, self-sacrificing affection that runs so much deeper than this skin I am so worried about. God doesn’t need fancy cover art to pick up a book and crack the spine; He just wants to read a good story. I have a feeling he’s going to like mine. After all, He wrote it.