I came upon a strange little connection last night while I
was playing piano that I never thought of before. Something of a synthesizing
metaphor that may help explain what learning to see beauty really requires. Or at least, what it's required for me.
Are these fleeting thoughts worth grabbing and exploring?
I was playing music, realizing that my old habit of
overusing the sustain pedal was in full swing and trying to resist it, but my
bad habit and the combo of my lack of practicing on this particular song made
it nearly impossible for me to help my foot just riding that pedal. I
remembered my guild judge assessment from elementary school writing something
about it, how I “tended to favor” the pedal a bit too much, and I’m unable to
excuse the fact that it’s been going on that long.
Can I face the truth of that, the deeper implications of
what it may reveal about me?
The point is, I had just made the realization that I’d held
God’s promptings at bay my whole life because of the clichés and deadening
effect of so many sincere, but manipulative Christians using unsubstantiated
“godtalk” (as Petersen so earth-shatteringly talks about–> here <–you owe it to yourself to read this. Often).
Pastors, leaders, people who should
know better as the “pinnacle of God’s chosen,” are constantly falling and failing in the
morass of banal Christian-speak that extracts the sacred out and makes it
commonplace. I thought how unless the Holy Spirit breathes life into us and our
lives, our words will have no power. Besides that, we’ll have nothing
worthwhile to share. I have been this way too. And the difficulty of remaining open to God’s leading is
why it’s so common to lose the touch, lose the daily, hard searching that gives
us truth and beauty, goodness and love to explore and then share. I think this
is a very big part of the reason so much of Christian teaching is unhelpful.
Ask yourself why the phrase “God is good” so often sounds so
In music, you can’t pretend. There’s no covering up
sloppiness or undisciplined playing because it’s a fundamental lack of
knowledge due to a lack of regular practice. Plain and simple. It's just as true for writers. And in life, the
overwhelming problem for any believer who’s been in church a while is apathy,
the inescapable pandemic. Christians who pretend to have deep current
knowledge of God, many all the while cover up their lack of regular spiritual
practice behind Christianese, lingo, clichéd phrases, and the “God-talk” Eugene
Petersen has identified. Have you noticed? Basically, the world is overrun with walking-dead
Christians trying to hide their unbelief and dead faith. And as anyone who has
mastered a skill knows, you can’t cover a lack of practice.
But many of us probably know firsthand why someone would want to.
You also can’t cover for a lack of insight. So often I see
writing that’s uninspired. I see people with good ideas, passable talent, even
some good editing and shaping skills. But their work doesn’t reveal anything
exceptional. And that’s always because they aren’t focused on what really
matters. I know because I have been there. If you aren’t able to see what’s going on behind everyday reality,
none of your powers of translation will matter. You’ll have nothing of real
value to say.
What big questions are you asking and seeking out answers
Writers have to see what others don’t see. That’s the first
skill to acquire. Knowing how to share it is secondary. And if you’re trying to
cover for a lack of regular practice, neglecting the work of pulling back the curtain to find
what’s really going on back there, it won’t go unnoticed. You can’t cover for
it. It might sound better than it would otherwise, but it’s still going to be
full of mistakes.
What “mistakes” does it seem God allowed in your life?
It’s easier to ignore the leadings, the moments we get new
thoughts like this. It doesn’t mean anything, after all. Everyone gets them.
And it may take some real time to consider what of use might be there. But this is
the daily choice: will we seek first the kingdom, or will we not? Sometimes we
might not want the answer. We might not believe there is one, or maybe we think
simply accepting is better, and living with the unanswered questions. Is that more dignified? More holy?
At some point, I realized relationship requires communication. Maybe some can just accept. I have to talk (okay, shout). Then I have to listen. Often I'm not ready to. I'm not mature enough yet. I have to wonder if others feel the same. Are we afraid
we’ll get silence in return? If beauty is everywhere, can there be beauty in
the waiting too?
How can we commit to such a painful daily practice of
seeking out the answers, even in the most painful places?
Maybe a better question is, how can we not? It seems to me,
to see beauty, you may first need to be willing to look long and hard at the
opposite. And maybe sometimes to wait there in the uncomfortable spot. Maybe you'll have to yell a bit. But that's the deal. That's all part of it. And for real, seasoned writers, I really believe there's no other way to share the real stuff. Don’t hesitate to take me up on that challenge. Sure, there's real good in easy beauty too, no doubt. But it's not all that. And I guess I want to encourage you not to be afraid of it. You'll make it through if you're honest and don't move on too quickly. Try starting today.
Thank you to Ann, who helped to
inspire this thought.