Sunrises, Andrew Lloyd Webber, and My New Piano

Sunrises. I love sunrises. For many years I have been too tired to get up and enjoy them. Nowadays, though,  I am driving my kids to school early every morning and during the winter I have been enjoying a lot of sunrises. My kids’ school is only about two miles away. It takes us maybe five minutes to get there. Part of the drive to the school involves going up a big hill and then we crest at the top and suddenly we have a big view of mountains and mist and red orange light peeking through the clouds. It’s amazing. Every morning I can’t stop myself from exclaiming to the kids, “Everybody look at the sunrise! It’s amazing!” And the kids have learned to oooh and aaahh right along with me. Thanking God for the sunrise is part of our morning prayers. I have always imagined God standing at an easel, throwing paint on left and right, painting the sunrise every day. God the Creator. The Creative One.

The other day as I was driving along, enjoying the beautiful colors, I thought about how we are created in the image of God. I’ve always wondered about that, what it means exactly. I thought about God painting the sky every morning, making art and it occurred to me that when we create things, make our own art, we are, in a small sense, being like God. We were made to create because we were made in the Creator’s image.

I thought about music. I love music, but I have struggled with music over the years. As a teenager I used music as an emotional outlet. A way to vent, a way to express emotions, a safe place to feel emotions. As life got more and more complicated, harder, I found myself shying away from music. As I look back, I can see where I struggled to keep depression away, and one of my solutions to not dealing with depression or anger or a bunch of other unresolved feelings, was to shy away from feeling any emotion. Just stay neutral. Calm.

The only problem with this approach is that when you don’t allow yourself to feel bad emotions, the really good emotions go away as well. I don’t think you can fully live in joy if you don’t also allow yourself to mourn. You can’t have peace if you don’t go through the conflict first. You can’t have happiness if you don’t deal with the anger. I think that as I shut myself down emotionally, I also shut down music. I just couldn’t do it. Music was too closely tied to emotions. I could sometimes sit down and play through some Bach or Mozart in an attempt to make my brain feel orderly, but I wasn’t feeling it. And so I mostly avoided it.

Lately, I have been looking at getting back into music. My husband, excited that I was showing an interest again, went out and got me an old 1935 Wurlitzer Baby Grand, for a really good price off Craig’s List. I went with him and helped him move it. It’s a perfect fit for our house.  It’s got some history, apparently it’s original owner was a violinist with the Knoxville Symphony and she died after a long happy life at the age of 103. It’s also a bit dinged up and scratched here and there which means we won’t have to freak out if our kids add another scratch or ding. I rearranged our entire living room so that I now have a Music Room at one end. I have started practicing a bit every day. Scales, warmups, old songs I played in high school. Just easing myself back into it. I have really been enjoying myself, but I’ve wondered about the emotional side of it. Can I relax enough to let myself play with feeling? Can I let myself feel the sadness in the song? Can I let myself feel again? I’ve been a bit worried that maybe I can’t any more. Maybe that part of me is gone. 

Today I was working on getting my piano music moved to a different bookcase and I found a piece of music that I didn’t even know I owned, “Pie Jesu” from Andrew Lloyd Webber’s REQUIEM. My copy was a vocal duet with piano accompaniment. It’s a beautiful, simple song written in latin. The English translation that is written on the music gives the words as this:

Merciful Jesus, who takest away the sins of the world, grant them rest.

Oh Lamb of God, who takest away the sin of the world, grant them eternal rest.

I sat down and started to sing it and play along. Alas. I am not a talented soprano and there was no way I could sing that high. My voice couldn’t bring justice to the beauty of the song. I stopped playing for a minute. And then I remembered my piano teacher, Ms. Wong, telling me to make the notes sing, make the melody sing. And I realized, I can’t sing the song, but I can make the piano sing it. And I did. And my fingers made the melody sing and it was beautiful. When I finally finished I sat there, feeling fidgety, like I needed to get up and do something. I stood up and went over the other side of my living room where I was still rearranging other books onto a shelf. (Moving my living room around created a couple projects I hadn’t been anticipating.) I was putting books back onto an empty shelf and I picked up my old Bible from years ago. I flipped it open and found myself in the book of Job, and I suddenly just wanted to read this chapter. Job 9. In this chapter Job talks about how powerful God is and how unworthy he, Job, is. In verse 33-35 he says,

“If only there were someone to arbitrate between us, to lay his hand upon us both, someone to remove God’s rod from me, so that his terror would frighten me no more. Then I would speak up without fear of him, but as it now stands with me, I cannot.”

I stopped reading and thought about how horrible that would be to have the full burden of your sins on your shoulders and no way to approach God because He is too Holy. And I suddenly realized that the song I had just played was an answer to Job’s predicament. Jesus takes away the sin of the world, and grants us rest. He removed God’s rod of punishment from us.

I went back to the piano, stared at the music again, and with fresh wonder, played the song again. And while I played, some tears fell, and I felt just a bit like my ice wall around my emotions started to crack a bit more. And I felt hopeful. Excited. I have missed music and I hadn’t even realized how much I missed it.

Here is a link to a recording of “Pie Jesu” if you’d like to hear it.

“Pie Jesu”

Finding Peace, It’s a Daily Thing

In the past week or so I have been fighting the sensation that I am just keeping about 2 feet ahead of an avalanche. Like I’m scurrying around moving as fast as I can, but I just can’t keep up and something catastrophic is going to happen as soon as I slip too far behind. People have asked me how I’m doing and I answer, “staying about 2 feet ahead of the avalanche” and everyone nods and says, “Oh yeah, I know all about that”. So apparently, this isn’t a feeling that is particular to just me. So, in typical me-fashion, I have been trying to figure out what this feeling is all about.

First of all, I feel guilty just to be feeling this way. I don’t feel like I have any right to this feeling. I don’t work a high-pressure job. I am not the sole breadwinner of the family. I don’t have any deadlines pressing on me. As I was trying to figure this out I questioned myself. What’s the worst that’s going to happen if I don’t accomplish all my tasks today? Ok, the house will be a mess, we might end up eating Little Caesar’s Pizza if I don’t cook supper. The kids might get some points knocked off of their behavior charts if I don’t keep their homework folder up-to-date. So what? None of that is really a big deal. Why do I feel so much pressure to keep up?

Have I been hanging on to unrealistic expectations for my life? Trying to keep my house in order has been a big part of it. I have 10 children (ok, 1 is at college now, but she still pops in regularly). I am in a constant quest to keep the laundry caught up, keep the trash taken out, keep the fridge full of food, and keep the dishes washed. And of course the impossible task of keeping the house clean when there is a toddler walking right behind me, undoing everything I do. (My latest cleaning spree had me cleaning one room, going to the next room, and by the time the next room was clean, the toddler had managed to destroy the first room…ack.) Again though, it’s housework, it’s not brain surgery, working as an EMT, or some other high-stakes job. So, apparently, high or low pressure jobs have nothing to do with this feeling. So, what is it?

Peace. Or rather, Lack of Peace. I think that is what is missing. When I am at peace I can roll with the punches, take each toddler disaster as it comes, orchestrate 12 people’s schedules without even blinking an eye. I’ve lost my peace somewhere along the way. As I write this I find my pulse racing, anxiety settling onto my shoulders. How did I get myself into this state? A week ago life was great and I was swimming in contentment. Why does peace seem so fleeting? Like trying to hold on to a cloud.

(time lapse)

So, I walked away from this puzzle and have been thinking more. Went to church. Spent time in worship and hearing God’s word. Felt my peace slowly returning. I think I’ve come to some conclusions. I have always struggled with “never-ending” chores. By this I mean things like washing dishes or doing laundry. You wash the dishes, the kitchen is clean and beautiful, you walk away and 3 hours later, the kitchen sink is full of dishes again. It never ends. The dishes always need to be washed. Same with laundry. You know, I’m 40 years old and I still do this. I wash all the laundry (and for a family of 12, that’s a lot of laundry) finally get it all folded and put away (never happens all in the same day) and then I feel this feeling of accomplishment. Hurray! I did it! I successfully did all the laundry. And then I promptly forget about laundry for several days because in my mind, I did the deed, I finished the task, I shouldn’t have to think about it again, right? And then halfway through the week I look up and there’s a giant pile of laundry again, and I experience this shock, like, What the Heck, I already did this! Now, if I was a disciplined, logical person, I would just wash one load of laundry every day, fold it, put it away, and I would never have an overwhelming pile of laundry to deal with.  I guess Peace is kind of like that. Jesus gives us peace. Spending time with him gives us peace, reading his word, spending time in worship, it all gives us peace. But I tend to get into this mode of, Ok, I just got a great dose of Jesus, I’m feeling peace and contentment and I’m ready to conquer the world with Love. And then I go about my daily business and kind of put Jesus on the back burner. Like, Ok, I did that, check. But having peace is a daily endeavor. It’s a daily seeking of God’s presence. I know how to do that. I know how to focus on him, even on busy days. I just forget that it’s necessary. And then suddenly I’m bogged down with a lack a peace and it’s like me staring at the pile of laundry, like, Where did you come from? Well, if I had invested in seeking out God every day, I probably wouldn’t be in this state.

When I was a kid I listened to a children’s musical called Music Machine. It was fun, had a bunch of songs about the fruit of the spirit. My favorite song was the one about Peace. I don’t remember all the words, but I do remember the last phrase of the chorus,

Peace, peace, I think I understand. Peace, peace, is holding Jesus’ hand.

Today when we were driving home from church my toddler was crying in his car seat. He was tired, needed a nap, had just spent the whole morning away from his mama, playing in the nursery. He just wanted me. I finally put my hand back and he held my hand the rest of the way home. He stopped crying and settled down. As I held his hand, I thought about the song from Music Machine and peace. This is what I need in my life right now. Just to focus on holding Jesus’ hand. Get his perspective on life again. Bask in his presence. And remember that I need this daily.

peacepic