Sunday, October 31, 2010


I learned an important lesson last Sunday. It was my week to teach, and I had felt impressed to use music in the scriptures as the underlying theme for the center section of Isaiah. (I’m looking forward to this afternoon’s wrap up of the book by the other teacher.)

Anyway, I decided we should play “Name That Tune” in order to get the class involved. It was a fun class (and I figured we needed a “fun” class for a change since Isaiah can tend to be a little heavy).

One of the most prominent repositories of Isaiah lyrics is Messiah by Handel. So a goodly number of the answers were indeed from that glorious piece of music. However, it was also kind of surprising how many times “How Firm a Foundation” appeared.

I have to confess, though, that I have a very soft spot in my musical heart for Mendelssohn’s Elijah. To my ear, the melodies are purer and not quite so frilly. (Perhaps it is because I find it impossible to sing all those strings of eighth notes whenever I have the privilege of attending the Messiah sing-in held at Cabell Hall on the University of Virginia grounds.) Whatever, there are numerous passages from that piece which speak directly to my heart.

I decided to close the class with a selection (“O come everyone that thirsteth,” from Isaiah 55:1) dedicated to a brother who had just recently decided to be baptized after forty years of marriage to one of my dear friends. As I listened to it in preparation for the class, the harmony lines floated through my mind and drew tears. They also accompanied me the rest of the morning during my church preparations.

Because I had found them so moving, I announced to the class that I would end my comments before the music given that I would probably be dissolved by the time it ended. But no tears came. Reflecting back on that experience this morning, I realized that it was because my attention was too caught up with the number of minutes left in the class, whether or not the boom box on which it was playing was allowing the words to be understood, and whether or not I should stand up and shut it off before the end had arrived.

This has served as a reminder that if we really want to experience something, we need not to be distracted. We need to give ourselves over to it completely. No nagging outside concerns to negate the influence of the Spirit.

On the other hand, as I say my prayers, I often find myself distracted. Many years ago, I discussed this problem with a wise friend. His advice was that he thought he’d follow the direction of those wandering thoughts and see if that wasn’t what was really needing to be prayed about. Yet another lesson.

May we know when to yield and when to stand firm.