I have not played the piano in many years.
Even when I did play the piano the effort was not terribly successful. I took lessons as a child and knew the notes and the keys and the finger positions, but making it all come together quickly enough to recognize the tune was a challenge. I never reached this enviable level of skill, but even so, the miracle of touching those white keys and hearing the notes is something I shall never forget. I do admire and, I must admit, also envy, those who can really play, those who can play so that others can sing.
So when I entered the Children’s Chapel at church this morning without a plan for the hymn we were singing (I was a substitute teacher) I was a bit lost. Could I lead a cappella? Possible but not desirable. Yet soon, with the help of one of our bright and sympathetic students, I opened the Hymnal to #311, All Things Bright and Beautiful, set the book carefully on the stand before me, and placed my fingers on the keys. I saw right away that my left hand fingers would be useless with those chords hovering in the base clef. I lowered my expectations and worked with my right hand fingers on the single melody that, I prayed, would somehow be coerced from the large wooden instrument before me.
The first note was such a delight! I wanted to pinch myself, I was so triumphant. Then the second note, the third, and I was moving along fine one note at a time until I hit a sharp, one of those nasty black keys. I remembered flats and sharps, those bumps in the road you had to watch out for and be prepared to battle. I tried from the beginning again. Darn that F-sharp. Again. This time I did it, and my fingers tumbled over the keys, including the long black sharp. We all laughed at my huge success, a laughter that soon turned to hysterics as we tried to pull ourselves together to sing the chorus. And we did!
As I considered my time this last week and what struck me as the most wonderful, I thought of those moments in the Children’s Chapel. We sang the chorus and read and prayed the Service of Morning Prayer together, kneeling before the magnificent carved wooden altar with the flaming candles. We prayed the prayer of the day, the Collect, and then the Lord’s Prayer, then Psalm 100, then said the Apostles’ Creed.
It wasn’t that my week didn’t go well. It was a good week, a fantastic week, in many ways. I made great headway on my novel-in-progress, The Magdalene Melody, for I received valuable advice from a Cambridge Magdalene scholar I had queried for help. He sent me, God bless him, nine pages of suggestions, including help with French expressions, and even Latin translations. I was in writing heaven as I applied this material to the manuscript. The week was also full of preparations for our upcoming Diocesan Synod, preparations that seem fragmenting at best for there are so many things to do, but still so very gratifying when accomplished. Then at the end of the week I learned my fourth novel, Hana-lani, had won an Honorable Mention at the San Francisco Book Festival. Such a surprise! I raced to email my readers. It was a good week, an incredible week.
Yet the Children’s Chapel trumped it all, and looking back to this morning, I think it was the profound experience of not fully seeing, but still doing and listening. It was having faith in the unseen, faith in what I knew to be true about that piano. I knew I needed to push down the white key, but I couldn’t see the hammer hit the cord deep inside. I knew I had to follow the notes on the page, this language of music. The note I saw, that little black dot, was the sign for one of the keys, and my brain had to tell my finger which key it was.
The process was not unlike our reach for God. We reach for and touch God in the Sacraments he has given us. We cannot see him, but we follow the notes he has given us in his Law, his Creed, his Scriptures, his Church, his Family, the Body of Christ. We follow, not blindly, for we can see partially. We can see how it all makes sense – the claims of Christ, his life, death, and resurrection, the immense love of God for each of us. We follow these love notes he sends us through time, each yesterday, each today, each tomorrow, using our reason and our feelings, our head and our heart. As we read the notes we learn to live our faith, we learn from experience. Just as we put our fingers on the keys, we love and worship and say our daily prayers. We learn to read the notes of God, and we get better each day. Like any human endeavor, this life of joy gets easier with practice.
I placed my finger on the white ivory bar and heard a sound fill the chapel. In the same way, each day I place my life in God’s hands, doing what needs doing, praying Thy will be done. Then I wait and I listen for the music.