Thoughts Along the Way…
I stood there on a beautiful green hillside, standing just at the edge of the shade made by a canopy erected for the occasion, my guitar slung over my shoulder, my fingers on the strings poised to play. But no music came to my fingers. I had led the procession up the hill from the hearse, carrying my service book, walking ahead of the pall bearers who carried that beautiful walnut casket, a work of art with its satin finish, carrying within it the mortal remains of an even more beautiful and complex work of art, God’s own handiwork, God’s baptized child, our friend and companion on the journey, John.
The casket was settled gently on the stand above the grave. The pall bearers removed their white gloves and took their places amid the others gathered for the words and rites that would commend our John’s life into God’s hands and commit his body to the earth. As Sandy, John’s widow, had requested, I was going to play something on the guitar, some music to speak to our souls before the words to speak to our hearts. So there I stood with my guitar, ready to play, people looking at me, some expectantly, some with peace, some with encouragement, some with a plea or yearning for something I could only guess at, and all I could think about for a moment in that moment was the noise.
Huge earth movers were shaping new hillsides for new graves a few hillsides away, their giant diesel engines growling across the landscape. Just beyond them a crew in a helicopter was doing something undoubtedly important to the power lines held aloft on their giant towers that always look to me like the Martian monsters from H.G. Wells’ War of the Worlds. C.S. Lewis once described the Kingdom of Hell as The Kingdom of Noise. I think that’s a pretty apt description. This was supposed to be a quiet, peaceful moment in a quiet, peaceful place where we could all let a bit of gentle music and words of promise carry us to the edges of our own deep wells of thought and feeling. But how could I begin to cut through all that noise? What is an acoustic guitar against the growl of earth movers and the whopping of a helicopter?
I must have looked as if I was waiting for a signal, and maybe I was. Sandy looked at me, smiled and nodded, and I realized in that moment that if this was not going to be the quiet place in the world that I was hoping for, that I thought it should be, that I had expected, then I was going to have to find a quiet place in me. The music would have to come from a quiet place in me and I would have to trust that somehow the quiet would be powerful enough to cut through the noise.
I closed my eyes and listened. Blest Be the Tie That Binds was flowing from my fingers, and when I looked up, I could tell that others could hear it, too. The melody then rewove itself into Just As I Am and as I played, unconscious of my playing, I let those notes full of grace speak to my own heart. Without a pause my fingers moved into Simple Gifts, the old Shaker tune that promises us that “When true simplicity is gained, to bow and to bend we will not be ashamed, to turn, to turn ‘twill be our delight, till by turning, turning, we come round right.”
Somehow, the quiet cut through the noise. Somehow the melodies of unity, grace and simplicity pierced the wall of mechanized cacophony that had seemed so overwhelming. Somehow people heard it all the way to the edges of the crowd. “Not by might, not by power, but by my Spirit,” says the Lord. And in all truth, the Spirit was my amplifier in that moment.
I won’t pretend to tell you that the music wafting from my guitar carried everyone to a place where they were prepared to truly hear the power and truth of all those words of hope and promise we speak as we lay our loved ones to rest. But it carried me to a quiet place where I could speak those words with faith, confidence, and something akin to joy.
So very, very often the world seems to be doing its very best to bury our better, deeper thoughts and feelings in a coffin of noise. So very, very often the thing we need most, long for most is simply a quiet place to think and feel and, depending on the situation, speak aloud to ourselves where it is quiet enough to hear our own voices. Sometimes we desperately need to get away to a quiet place. But since the world won’t often let us do that, we need to find that quiet place inside us. There is strength there. There is beauty there. There is power and grace and love there. And music.
Pro Gloria Dei,