Preeminent Performance

In my “Redeeming Culture through Music” class, we were asked the following question:

“Which is most important in music: the composer, the performer, or the listener?”

The class more or less unanimously expressed that the three persons are equally important. After all, if there is no composer, there is nothing to perform and if there is nobody to perform, why bother to compose? Furthermore, without either of these, there is no reason or even opportunity to listen. In fact, these three roles are so remarkably interrelated that it is difficult to define or even discuss one apart from the other two and often an individual musician may (and should) practice more than one of these roles.

It seems, however, that although there is an almost triune relationship between the composer, performer, and listener, it is worth realizing that the composer and listener are mediated by the performer and, indeed, the performer ideally acts as both composer and listener. In performing a piece, a musician is interpreting and expressing with a unique intention, thus co-composing while also being the mode by which the original composer is sharing his ideas with an audience. Without the performer, these “ideas” would be limited to the mind of the composer; after all, notation is not truly music any more than words are truly that which they describe. The composer relies upon the performer to breath life into the form of his work and, through the performer, the music is made.

The performer is also the most active listener. It is immediately clear when a performer is not listening to his music and it is rightly said that while a musician might hear the note as he plays, the true artist hears it before. To play well, to bring to life a work in collaboration with the composer, the performer must also be the greatest of listeners.

Communication too must be mentioned, for without the performing artist to produce the sounds imagined by the composer, listeners or audience members cannot experience and participate in the music. As Madeleine L’Engle writes in her beautiful devotional book, Walking on Water: 

“Art is communication, and if there is no communication it is as though the work had been stillborn.”

A piece of music might exist conceptually in the mind of the composer, but without the performer as its communicator, those who are mere listeners will not be able to hear, enjoy, and ponder it. The performer, then, is not only the embodiment of both composer and listener, but the mediator between the original composer and the awaiting listeners.

At this merely human level, it seems that of composer, performer, and listener, the performer (if we are forced to choose one) is the most vital, for he is both of the others, as well as a communicative mediator. It becomes apparent through scriptural synthesis that this answer is consistent theologically as well.

Here is where I must clarify: I do not mean to suggest that the relationship of composer, performer, and listener is a perfect parallel to the Trinity. (I have laughed at too many #AlsoNotLikeTheTrinity posts to risk it!) However, I will venture to suggest that music, like all arts, is incarnational, and that the composer, performer, and listener wonderfully image the intermediary work of Christ between God the Father and His creation, mankind.

“To paint a picture or to write a story or to compose a song is an incarnational activity.” – Madeleine L’Engle

First of all, what do I mean that “art is incarnational”? The production of art is to put ideas into a sensory, communicable form. Books are ideas set in words; painting or sculpture are visual and tangible expressions of the artist’s idea; music differs slightly in that a person, rather than a medium such as a book or canvas, is needed to produce the audible product. But even (and perhaps especially) in this case, the music is an idea made actual through the performance; music is an idea incarnate as organized sound.

Already, there is an echo of Christ in the word “incarnate,” and rightly so. The idea that music is brought fully into being by the mind of the composer and through the performer as co-composer is reminiscent of John 1:1-3:

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through Him, and without Him was not any thing made that was made.” (ESV)

God (the Father) creates as a mind imagines, while the Son manifests as the Word communicates. Ideally, a composer would be also performer, thus imaging the perfect unity of the Trinity. Even with a separate composer and performer, though, the reflective relationship is present: the composer creates conceptually and, through the power of the performer, communicatively.

This brings us to the listeners. Controversial composer, Arnold Schoenberg, believed that:

“A real composer writes music for no other reason than that it pleases him. Those who compose because they want to please others, and have audiences in mind, are not real artists.”

Theologically, based on the parallels I seek to draw, there is some truth here. God creates out of His overflowing delight and the Genesis narrative immediately reveals God’s pleasure as He deems each piece of creation “good.” However, this delight indicates that God formed all things also in order to share this wondrous joy. When God crowns His creation with His own image, mankind, He pronounces it finally, “very good.”

Here and throughout Scripture (consider the Psalms as one such vast example) it is apparent that God in His infinite goodness and love made all that there is for His own right pleasure, but also with the gracious desire to communicate Himself and His creativity with His image bearers: mankind, the listeners.

This brings us back to incarnation. Consider Colossians 1:15-17

“He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities— all things were created through him and for him. And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together.” (ESV)

Christ, the Son of God who took on flesh, is fully divine and fully dust, fully God and fully man. By Christ all things were made and in him all things are held together; he was the means by which all is made and remade, but also is the true image of the God we cannot see. He is the Word that speaks of the Divine Mind, making manifest what is “too wonderful” for mankind (Psalm 139:6, ESV).

Christ is the mediator, the co-creator who yet condescended in mercy to listen and to teach. He is the Word, incarnation, and — in this instance — the truest of performers, for through Him we receive reconciliation and understanding, for though Christ walked in flesh among us, He is one with our Creator.

“He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent. For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross.” – Colossians 1:18-20 (ESV)

Although composer, performer, and listener are each necessary and impossible to isolate from each other, we find that the performer is ideally both composer and listener, as well as the mediator between an unhearing audience and the seemingly-incomprehensible ideas of the composer. Within the context of Christianity, we find parallels that reveal the incarnational aspect of the performer’s work and resonate with the truth of Christ’s manifestation and mediation. Performers, then, in their practice, image the preeminence of Christ as they bring music to life.

 

 

A Poem to the Church of St. Edward King and Martyr

The words that lie written beneath our feet,
Titles of saints, these graves in graven stones,
The echoes of reformers’ gracious tones
Which once and still all sinners here would meet.

And still these words evoke fascination
Of both pilgrim and poet’s seeking hearts,
Quickening with the spirit each their arts,
Knowledge grown into Imagination.

And as the lighted panes of color sink,
The sun behind their beauty surely must
Rise as the divine out of the dust,
Drawing all to come and deeply drink.

Great voyages were here put out to sea
And brought by mercy’s gift more safely back,
Lifted, purged and saved by utter wreck
Foretold in written art-turned-prophecy.

Come feel the place preparéd by the Word,
Too vast, too true for human reason’s reach.
Though past, the sermons said yet seem to preach;
Freeing the soul to pray and thus be cured.

-Cambridge, July 2nd, 2018

Pride and Conviction

Well, it’s that time of year again… We find ourselves nearly in the middle of June and, as such, thoroughly entrenched in National Dairy Month, Adopt-a-Cat Month, Safety Awareness Month, and Accordion Awareness Month. We also are (supposedly) to rally together in June to promote camping, candy, roses, and vegetables (https://nationaldaycalendar.com/june-monthly-observations/). However, while I bet very few of us are out marching in celebration of accordions and roses, I am sure everybody is aware that June is also LGBTQIA awareness month. Namely, June has become Pride Month and the rainbow flags are flying thick.

Now – aside from the obvious injustice that accordions are not receiving their proper attention – Pride Month poses as a particular challenge to many, myself included. I am faced with this enormous question: How am I, as a follower of Christ, to interact with Pride Month 2018? 

So many will be quick to speak for biblical – and, I believe – moral, truth. They will declaim any sexual relationships and attractions other than those commended in scripture. However, often these comments are hurtful, unhelpful, or hypocritical.

The other tendency is to lean toward affirmation. However, to praise a lifestyle that we believe to be immoral is to lie to ourselves and others. We cannot tell people celebrating Pride that we are happy for them if we believe they are on a path toward destruction. And, if we genuinely believe this, it does them no kindness to affirm them on their path.

It is better to say nothing than to be wrongfully affirming and better to say nothing than to be purposefully abrasive. My proposal for those who, like myself, are unsure of how to interact with Pride is that we neither falsely affirm nor seek to attack. Rather, we as Believers ought to use Pride Month to be convicted of our own struggles and then to engage in honest conversation with each other.

“What struggles?” you might ask, although I hope you don’t. If you are the type of person who can honestly be baffled as to whether or not you are battling sin, then I fear you have already lost the war. Whether straight or LGBT or questioning, we are all living in a fallen world and our hearts desire that which is not good. The difference is that Christ has overcome these struggles and, in Him, we too might be conquerors, putting to death the flesh and living by the Spirit (Romans 8:12-13).

Ironically, the main problem for all of us is, I believe, pride. This makes June a perfect month to reflect on our struggles. Everywhere we look, rainbows and catchy slogans and personal testimonies are demanding that we celebrate Pride. However, pride is the very problem.

Pride by definition is the state of deriving pleasure or satisfaction from a possession, quality, achievement, or relationship. The dilemma is that this pride becomes a self-focused and temporal source of identity. Possessions are lost or used up. We change our minds, loves, and habits. Someone will always achieve more than us. Even the best relationships will inevitably let us down. Pride Month reminds us that we are, as humans, prone to find our worth – our very identities – in what we are proud of and this becomes dangerous. Rather than immediately celebrating or condemning, though, we ought to find this convicting.

Paul warns of this in Galatians 6:11-14, telling Christians that our physical characteristics and/or our heritage (circumcision or lack thereof) do not have any bearing on our true identity as Christians. Rather, the only worthwhile boast is in Christ, for, as Lord and Savior, He is the perfection of the qualities, accomplishments, and relationships that we seek so desperately. 

Furthermore, this passage reveals that not only are we not to take pride in earthly circumstances, but that they are to be dead to us. We are crucified with Christ and the world crucified to us, therefore, any earthbound identity must be forsaken. Any relationship, quality, goal, etc. (i.e. any source of pride) that is not in accordance with the “new creation” of Christ’s death and resurrection must be abandoned, and, any of these that are permitted by scripture must be pursued within the context of a Christian walk (Galatians 6:15).

In short, pride is focused on the self; it is placing one’s sense of identity and worth in a temporal relationship, role, accomplishment, or characteristic. It is not lasting and it cannot save. As Christians, we are to exchange pride in self for boast in Christ. 

Christians, I fear that during Pride Month, we may find ourselves succumbing to a worse pride than a wayward heart, that of self-righteousness. We might look on those celebrating and feel somehow as if we are smarter or better because of our “traditional” morality. Beloved reader, this we cannot do! We must fight to the last of our strength to resist the allure of self-righteousness, which is simply pride gilded in religion. We cannot honestly scorn those exalting their personal attractions if we are so absorbed in our own righteousness as though it were something we had earned.

The answer, again, is to view pride with a heart of conviction. We are also Pride. We might not be dancing in celebration or changing our Twitter handles to include rainbow flags, but we too demand affirmation. We too cling to what feels right even in the face of what we claim as moral truth. We too seek to justify ourselves and find ways to feel satisfaction in who we are as individuals.

Dear reader, we must recognize that we are all characterized by pride, not that we might all celebrate, but that we might all be convicted.

June is a month where daily we must ask ourselves: Where does my identity come from? Is there an aspect of myself without which I would not know who I am? What is it that I desire and how am I pursuing it?

 

I know these questions are enough to send just about anyone into an existential crisis and honestly I have been feeling that lately. What would I be if I were not a musician? Not a writer? Not a runner or a reader or a quirky blonde with a knack for puns? Even with all these things, am I more than the sum of my parts?

Let me give you an example.

I am a runner and I often plan my entire day around squeezing in a run. A solid percentage of my Instagram is comprised of snapshots from cool trails. Before I  began running, I was an anxiety-ridden teenager battling an eating disorder and, after discovering running, I was happier, not only in the activity, but in the identity it brought with it; the running community is supportive and fun, I like how I feel after a good run, and it gives me a chance to explore new places.

However, this habit-turned-identity became a double-edged sword. I did not run this morning and my first thought was “Well, this day might as well be a lazy one.” Why?  Because I have stacked my identity on top of the pillar of being a runner and, more broadly, an achiever. Being an achiever is who I am: It is a part of me that I cannot escape. 

But this is not right. If skipping a single run (or failing to practice to my best standard or not writing something blog-worthy) can derail my whole day, something is wrong with the hierarchy of my identity. What if I were unable to do these things at all? Where would I find the pride of achievement? Who would I be without this pride? 

Reader, I am sure you have felt similar fears. And, if not, I am sorry if my post has inspired them in your dear heart. But, in facing our fears, we might find our true identity much better than in running to temporal roles and relationships. And, I am convinced, we will find a greater sense of satisfaction, patience, and joy in rightful temporal roles and relationships once we free ourselves to live fully into the enduring, lasting identity we are promised in Christ. 

Running is not immoral, but as soon as it becomes a point of pride, it no longer is an identity in communion with Christ. But, when I use it as an active reminder that I am running the race, pursuing the prize of the upward call, then it becomes subject to my identity as redeemed and beloved by Christ (Philippians 3:14). We must abandon those identities that cannot be reconciled to Christ and find those that can all the more precious for their roots in Him. 

Throughout this month, I want to challenge you to be convicted of your own idolized identities and grow in compassion for those who are seeking affirmation and love where it can only be found on earth. Dear heart, we are dead to the identities that will one day fade, but we are oh so alive in the resurrection of Christ. Look to the love and righteousness promised in Him and recall from whence you were saved. Pride does indeed go before the fall, but from the deepest of wells, the light of the stars can best be seen, and we find our enduring and truest boast when we are most humbled (paraphrase from “The Valley of Vision”).  

One more thought: rainbows. In Genesis 8-9, after the worldwide flood, God places a bow in the sky to be a sign of His promise to Noah (and mankind). My heart aches to see this symbol of divine mercy turned into a banner for desires and relationships contrary to His design. However, it gives me hope to remember that when God sealed His covenant, He promised faithfulness despite the wayward heart of man. As we find ourselves facing countless rainbow emojis, we might reflect on God’s grace in the face of our fallenness; a symbol of God’s used wrongly by man is yet God’s to use for good (Genesis 50:20). Man will fail, desires disappoint, but God is faithful. Let us find our identity in our Savior and glorify our God even and especially during this month of pride. 

We boast in no other love than that of Christ our Lord, born and crucified and raised to life that we might be saved to an enduring relationship with and identity in Him. 

Mariners

We are mariners, mariners we,

made for the land, parted from sea

from that second day and still –

striving as on the earth to fill-

drawn by its alluring, billowy waves-

we drink down the depths

to find watery graves.

.

We hear the call, that age-old call,

a whisper first, a breeze enthralls,

that grows and storms, restless ocean

which floods within the hearts of men.

And from our own mouths, it ever rails:

“Depart, depart, and set your sails!”

.

And so headlong into the deep

we crash from quick-eroding beach.

Toeing the sand was never enough;

we ached to ride the riptides rough.

.

Water there upon land gives life

but here the salt-foam drains it dry.

But never we stop to ponder: why?

Why to the sea, which roars, “Stay back!”

Why tempt a beast, that is bound to attack?

But the sea is within us; we ate of its fruit

it drowns from inside ’til shore zephyrs fall mute.

.

We fashion our ships, believing them arks

to keep us safe from the ghostly white sharks.

But up on their decks as we voyage across

we all yet shoot down heaven’s albatross.

.

Best stay inland, best anchor your soul.

Our bodies might swim, but this old sailor knows:

there is no raft or vessel that might

bear us when the steady dock’s out of sight.

Cast out the life-sucking salt in your heart!

Rebuff its waves with its own cry: “Depart!”

“Easter morn rose grey with fog”- A Poem for Easter Sunday, 2018

Easter morn rose grey with fog

-anticipation hid-

No dawn’s light to testify

to what the Savior did.

.

Still we know and sing aloud

of the Risen Son

And yet the part that strikes me most

was that on Friday done.

.

Rising up is natural;

the sun never stays down.

What is more a miracle’s

a God put ‘neath the ground.

.

That He should live, lifted high,

is glorious, fitting, right-

And yet what is most shattering

is that my Lord would die.

.

Rising reign proves deity,

but in that final breath,

Is found the Lover’s agony

that giveth life in death.

.

Now on this grey Easter morn

the fog is found a friend;

Coronated by cruel thorns,

the radiant King ascends.

.

I know by noon the sun will burn

this ling’ring shade away.

Yet ’twas the shrouded cross earned

the joy that warms today.

.

“He is Risen!” Yes, indeed!

We, in Christ, are raised!

And “lema sabachthani”

Has turned to sunlit praise.

Unarmed Battle: Insights on Ephesians 6:10-18

10 Finally, my brethren, be strong in the Lord and in the power of His might. 11 Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. 12 For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places. 13 Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand.

14 Stand therefore, having girded your waist with truth, having put on the breastplate of righteousness, 15 and having shod your feet with the preparation of the gospel of peace; 16 above all, taking the shield of faith with which you will be able to quench all the fiery darts of the wicked one. 17 And take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God; 18 praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit, being watchful to this end with all perseverance and supplication for all the saints. (NKJV)

I have read this passage (Ephesians 6:10-18) probably over 50 times in the past couple of months and numerous more throughout my life (sword drill and memory verse, anyone?). However, this time I felt as if the Sword of the Spirit had hit me with the flat of the blade. Hard.

Reading these verses this morning, I realized with sorrow and fear that many Christians in my generation- myself included- are entering a battle unarmed.

Every morning when I check the news, another tragedy has erupted. Another disaster has left devastation in its wake. Another evil person has taken the lives of innocents. More leaders have turned to threats instead of negotiation.

And switching to social media leaves no relief. Where once I saw memes and birthday wishes, I overwhelmingly see more and more cries for help. 

This network of anxiety, insecurity, and frustration is what the world has become. Our world was created with so much beauty and remains overflowing with blessings, but sin left its mark and we are living in the fallout (no pun intended…)

This is a world at war: physical war as well as spiritual…indeed, physical war because of spiritual warfare.

This brings me to my point.

Christians, especially those of my young generation, we are in the midst of the greatest war ever fought and, although our victory is sure in Christ, we cannot enter this conflict unarmed. My goal now is to provide insight (humble as it may be) into how we may live out the strengthening command of Ephesians: to put on the full armor of God.

How do we arm ourselves spiritually? 

  1. “Know thine enemy”– Our ultimate enemy is not our neighbor with opposing views, nor the man whose words strike like daggers, nor the one who inflicts physical wounds. Certainly these are fleshly enemies, but our principle enemy is “not flesh and blood, but the…spiritual forces of evil.”  When we recognize that our enemy is much more terrible than any single human being and is the force behind the evil we experience, we are better able to love our earthly enemies in prayer and deed, as well as to prepare ourselves to defend all against the evil powers at work in this world and in the hearts of mankind.
  2. Know Who holds the Power- We must “be strong in the Lord and in His mighty power,” indicating that we must don our armor and face our battles with confidence, knowing that they are “a light, momentary affliction…preparing us for an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison” (2 Corinthians 4:17). Our King has already won the battle and our End is sure; bearing this constantly in mind will give us the strength to withstand any attack of the enemy.
  3. Tighten Truth- It is no coincidence that Paul describes Biblical truth as a belt, for it is what holds us together as individuals and as the body of the church. We are bound by this truth as we might be bound by a well-made belt. However, we must not allow ourselves to feed on the lies of the world, growing so full on deceptions that we loosen the belt of truth in favor of comfort. Rather, Christians, we must fasten it still tighter, binding our hearts to the Word of the Lord and committing ourselves to discernment in all things.
  4. Perform Spiritual Cardio-  A breastplate protects the heart, thus the “breastplate of righteousness” is a safeguard for Believer’s hearts. In practicing righteousness in a world that has abandoned definitive morality, we exercise and strengthen our hearts; imitating Christ in unwavering righteousness is the greatest heart exercise, for it teaches us to sacrifice our own desires for the love of God and others, as well as prepares us to shine as lights unto the world and to stand before the throne of our Lord.  None of us will do this perfectly, but as honorable soldiers we must continue to “press on toward the goal…for the upward call of God in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 3:14).
  5. Come in Peace- We are instructed to fit our feet to bring the Gospel of Peace. Perhaps this means listening to others with the intention of understanding rather than replying. Or maybe this means voicing our convictions with firmness but gentleness. The cliche “What Would Jesus Do/ WWJD” saying applies quite nicely here, for Jesus used strong speech when necessary and was never hesitant to proclaim the truth, even when it made people uncomfortable. However, we must also be winsome and kind. Finding this balance is difficult, but it is the key to fighting a spiritual battle while preaching peace to others.
  6. Take Refuge- Ducking behind a shield in the midst of battle is not retreat, but reasonable refuge. In the same way, amidst the turmoil of this spiritual war and the conflicts on earth, we must seek refuge in our faith. There are two sides to this shield of faith. The first is that we have a certain hope for future victory, that is, we have faith. The second is that we must live faithfully (loyally, earnestly) in light of this hope. We uphold faith as we look toward our End, but we also must maintain integrity and perseverance through the present struggles, thus living faithfully. This twofold faith hems us before and behind, protecting us against the enemy’s onslaught of doubts and despair.
  7. Keep your Head- A mind set upon God is a helmet of salvation. Christians, our salvation is assured, but we must keep our minds focused on it, rejoicing yet always striving forward. A clear-headed soldier is a more courageous warrior and a focused fighter will win. However, just as a soldier must put on his helmet again each day, we must continually remind ourselves of our salvation and hope in Christ, ceaselessly renewing our focus and resolve.
  8. Draw your Sword- Time in the Word and in spiritual development is not optional. The enemy loves to persuade us that we do not have time to pray or study scripture and is strongest when he convinces us that the Holy Spirit is no longer active. But these are the very lies we combat when we choose to focus on spiritual growth. Throughout my personal battle, I have found that any time I give to the Lord in studying His Word and praying or praising, He redeems in some other way. After all, He who made time surely can make enough for us to spend with Him. Our time in study and meditation on God and His precepts is as crucial as sword training for a knight. Without it, what pitiful tin soldiers we will turn out to be.

 

Beloved Reader, I am writing this for myself as much as for you. I confess that I neglect my armor, allowing it to rust in patches and loosening my grip on the Sword. But I beseech you and am dedicating myself to continue training for this ongoing war. Our victory is won in Christ, but we have a duty to fulfill in this fallen world, which is the battleground. We must be faithful soldiers, living in love but firm in conviction, prepared to withstand the fiercest attacks of the enemy and strengthened by our secure future as redeemed Believers.

 

In Christ,

Ryanne

A Sunset Reflection 

I took this photo on a sunset run and added the words (surprise! They were not actually fabulous skywriting!) as I was doing some reading later. The exercise, combined with the wisdom of St. Hildegard, were a welcome relief to an emotional day. 

Sometimes on overcast days like today, we fail to remember the sun. Yet, by grace, it descends to us each evening, casting its warm glow over the earth and tempering the darkness with the promise of its brilliant return come dawn. 

What a marvelous image this is of the reality we know as Believers. (Plato has me on an image-reality thought trend.) As beautiful as sunsets are, they are a mere flicker of the splendor of the True Son who humbled Himself for us. Likewise, although we run in a darkened world, He has already risen with splendor beyond any sunrise…and, in Him, so shall we! We live in the purgatory between sunset and the sunrise, but our hope is more sure than the dawn. The race is not in vain, for the Lord gives us the wings to overcome; through His comfort, we can rest in the promise that joy comes not only in the morning, but through mourning.