Sunday, March 23, 2014

Being an Instrument

When I was first married there was a series of visiting teaching messages (for the women of the church to share with one another during monthly visits) that were centered around the theme of being steadfast and immoveable. I remember one lesson in particular which had the title of "being an instrument in the hands of God by being steadfast and immoveable." I talked with the other woman I was with about the idea, and she said that it confused her. How could someone do anything if they were being immoveable? So I shared what had come to me when I read it. A sculptor, potter, painter, or writer needs a tool (chisel, brush, pen, etc) that will not move on its own. The artist needs a tool that will be reliable and still, so that s/he can guide it and have it go where s/he wants. If the painter's brush droops the paint will get in the wrong place. If the potter's tool bends then the clay will not be crafted in the way s/he wanted it to be.

In order to be a tool in the Lord's hands, our job is to be available, and to be steady, but not to try to do everything ourselves.

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Somewhere in my late teens I started singing in church. Or rather, I'd been singing musical numbers in church for years, but somewhere in my late teens I got up the confidence to start singing solos. I liked singing, I liked performing, but I also have always known that singing in church is not a performance or a recital. Singing in church is about bringing the Spirit into the space. And so before I sang I always prayed that I could be a conduit for the spirit. That the Lord would use me and my voice to speak to the members of the congregation.
It has always worked.

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Recently I moved to a new city and a new congregation. I had called ahead to find out when and where church meetings were, and so someone had my name...and even before I had moved the compassionate service leader Sister J had called me. She is a woman of generous size and spirit, who knows everyone's business and everyone's needs (because she calls and asks) and then she doesn't take no for an answer in taking care of people. Two weeks after my arrival she called me again, to see how we were getting settled in, and whether we needed anything. She apologized that she had not called sooner, but explained that she had been called upon to help arrange a very unexpected funeral and that that had consumed much of her time. She mentioned, almost in passing, that the one thing she still needed was a musical number, and that she was not sure what she would do for that. I responded instinctively, almost without thought. "If you can find an accompanist, I can sing."
"I can play," Sister J said. "Is 'How Great Thou Art' ok?"

And with that it was decided. I was going to sing at a stranger's funeral. Now truth be told, this was not the first  nor even the second time I have sung at a funeral where I did not know the deceased; but it was the first time where I really did not know anyone.
Especially in the context of this funeral, where a young father had died unexpectedly, I knew the grief at this funeral would be extra acute, and that music is a powerful medium. I felt awkward and I felt pressure and nervousness that I have not felt about church music in a long time. 

When I was rehearsing with Sister J, she started singing along at one point. Then she apologized. "I got caught up in it," she said, "this song moves me so much. I don't mean to steal your thunder if I start singing along at the funeral."
"Singing in church is never about thunder" I replied.
She hesitated, as though she had not thought about it that way. "You're right," she responded, "it's not." 

The rehearsal was ok, but particularly with the high note at the end I felt like I was not singing it very well. I knew this funeral was important for all the family who would be bidding a premature farewell to their son, brother, and father, so for a day and a half I did what I always do. I prayed that I could be a conduit for The Spirit...but something still felt off. I couldn't quite place it, but I knew that what needed to come through me at this gathering was not like most meetings.

As I pulled into the parking lot with ten minutes to go until the funeral, I still felt shaky. I took the key out of the ignition, bowed my head, and murmured one last prayer...and the words came to me "Lord, make me an instrument of Thy peace."
An instrument of peace. That was precisely what I needed to be. Calm came over me.
So I prayed St. Francis' phrase over and over as I walked into the chapel. When my turn came I walked up to the podium and started to sing...and then I gripped onto the side of the podium and just held on as the music poured through me with the words and notes all where they should be.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~

An instrument is a still thing. I played the flute for a couple of years as a tween, and I can tell you that no matter how shiny that flute was, it couldn't do anything unless I held it, pressed the keys, and gave it my breath.
Yesterday I was an instrument with endless potential but little possibility except in the hands and with the breath of Someone else.
I am grateful for the opportunity, and touched by the experience. Because as much as I (hope I) gave the family the peace they needed yesterday, my own soul was filled too.

3 comments:

Cheryl said...

I wish I could have heard! Just reading about it brings tears. You are so right.

Katrina said...

Beautiful story! Thank you for sharing. I have prayed for this blessing and felt this same peace and sense of being an instrument in the Lord's hands during musical numbers in church. It is such a powerful thing when God answers those prayers. I hope I can be that same instrument more often, even when not playing music.

Destiny said...

Awesome experience.

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