The Intimacy of Music (4 of 4)

It must have been sometime in the mid-1960s when my oldest brother Gary brought home a Sears Silvertone acoustic guitar, from our grandmother’s house, long abandoned by my uncle – setting into motion a chain of events that would forever change the trajectory of the lives of my two older brothers and myself. Because not only did my brother Gary take to making music almost immediately, but my brother Jeff wasn’t too far behind him, in taking to it as well. Which was all a bit intimidating for me at first, but eventually I discovered my own path at music making. Until finally, all three of us had become accomplished singer/songwriters, performing and recording music.

For me the allure of music was almost irresistible. The idea that in a three or four minute, minimally sketched out bit of poetic storytelling, brought to life with a finely honed melody, would create a response so evocative and moving — was just mystifying to me. So I wasn’t simply interested in mastering a musical instrument – I wanted to learn to create the same kind of enchantment I had experienced, embedded in those songs that seemed capable of transporting my heart and mind, so effortlessly. Because it struck me that mastering such an artistic process would be akin to opening up a door into another dimension.

Even without lyrics, the transcendent quality of music, has the ability that all other forms of art have in reminding me that there’s far more to existence than what can be found at face value. So I am drawn like a magnet to the source of such beauty for it is this very longing of the soul that gives music its uniquely intimate quality. Consider this — music is such an anthropological constant, every culture, sub-culture, and individual can hear a song that speaks to them, as if it were written to them, making it both a shared and a personal experience, simultaneously. It’s as if music were being drawn from a deeper ontological well – a well that we all drink from . . . and in so doing, we remember something essential about ourselves.

No doubt you have a favorite song, or recording artist, or composer – music that you connect with in an almost indescribable way. I see you out there driving down the road, passionately singing along, or maybe just going about your daily business, with ear buds in, taping out the rhythm – but that’s okay, that’s me too. Music allows us to experience something about ourselves, unlike anything else – because it’s able to circumvent our usual cognitive filters, so that we might know things in ways our intellect is incapable of explaining.

So as we enter into the house of God, seeking to have our hearts and minds recalibrated in our corporate confession that Jesus is Lord – we lift our voices in songs of praise with voices from around the world, adding our voice to the voices that have come long before us, declaring the glory of God. Because Ephesians 5:19-21 seems to suggest that these are the songs that bind us together – that as Jesus becomes our overwhelming focus, we might see on one another’s face, the joy of the Lord. So I sing — “I was glad when they said to me, “Let us go to the house of the Lord!”” (Psalm 122:1), and “Oh sing to the Lord a new song; sing to the Lord, all the earth!” (Psalm 96:1) . . . won’t you join me?

Praise God from who all blessings flow . . .

The Intimacy of Food (3 of 4)

I recently watched a little girl unscrew an Oreo cookie, and then scrape the cream center off with her teeth, and I was immediately transported to my youth. But I never was much of a fan of eating Oreos this way as a kid, even though it was the common practice of my peers. I’d much rather bite down on the cookie and cream together, quickly followed by a swallow of milk. But then I was reminded of the first time I had cookies and cream ice cream – it was before you could buy it in the store. My wife, before she was my wife, cut crumbled up Oreos into vanilla ice cream . . . and it was simply delightful. Which then made me think of my daughter Callie’s Oreo truffles – light and rich temptations that are best appreciated . . . with a glass of milk.

It’s funny how a single food item can have so many layers of memory associated with it – unspecific moments with people in forgotten places of our past, somehow imprinted with a peculiar intimacy . . . of shared experiences with food and drink. But I guess it’s really not that surprising, as there is an unavoidable intimacy with something you intentionally put into your mouth knowing full well that on a molecular level it will alter the chemistry of your body. Which may explain why intuitively we are drawn to experience eating and drinking in the company of others.

My wife and I decided early on in our marriage that dinner would be a family sit down event. So that seven kids later, gathering around the same table, the youngest in the same wooden high chair that the oldest once occupied – the ethos of our family would have a daily touchstone, of thanking God for what we were given . . . and thanking my wife for her loving labors in the kitchen. And after all of this time, the comfort food shared around that table has become almost sacramental to my children, who now have grown up to establish homes and traditions of their own – where my wife’s recipes have become a legacy to what it means to be at home.

In the book of Leviticus we find the dietary laws of Israel, which were intended to distinguish them as a people set apart to God – in this way, what they would eat and not eat, became a sign of allegiance, a sign of their belonging to the one true God. And their high holy days were not merely ceremonies and rituals, but celebrations and feasts, intended to coalesce God’s people in reconciliation to God, and with one another. And when we consider the sacredness of the custom of hospitality to the stranger and the sojourner – the sharing of a meal takes on even a greater dimension of grace transmitted in a most personal of ways possible.

And on the night that Jesus was betrayed, he broke the bread and poured the wine – inviting his disciples to eat and drink, and by doing so they were receiving his body and blood, to be changed by the experience. Now, I won’t bother with debating whether you take this as metaphor or literally – either way, the invitation of the table, is to be changed by the experience. For the Bread of Life is the giver of life. In this way, Jesus is essential, not merely as a eschatological proposition, or as some sort of a social/ religious explanation – rather, he is ontologically essential, in the same way that food and drink are essential . . . which is why when I approach the communion table, I whisper “This is your body and blood – change me now from the inside out, and sustain my life with your presence” For this an intimacy to which Christ entreats us all to come.

“Break this bread . . . sip this wine . . .”

The Intimacy of Time (1 of 4)

The economic axiom “time is money” is often misunderstood as meaning that the value of money is equal to the value of time – when in fact, it is more correctly understood as meaning that money only has value because of the time value it represents. Money has no innate value – hay bales of hundred dollar bills on a desert island, that can’t be spent, are nothing more than kindling! Conversely, time is the value measurement of the common wage, which in turn, confers value on the good or services provided. And given enough time, a common object, if well preserved, can command a pretty penny from an avid collector.

So needless to say, time is a precious commodity, regardless of what shape it takes. You spend your entire life spending this currency, exchanging one moment for the next — sometimes carelessly, sometimes with grave intent . . . but always in unrecoverable amounts. And as someone who has already spent the larger sum of what I’ve been given – what remains takes on even greater value to me. But in a very real sense, I invested all of those years in the wisdom that only experience can afford – an investment I am currently drawing dividends from now.

And I’ve learned that not only is time an irreplaceable invaluable resource and an irreducible incubator of wisdom – but it is also a profoundly intimate gift we give to one another. Whether it’s a leisurely shared conversation between good friends, hours spent engaging children or grandchildren, or a weekend get-a-away taken with your spouse – time spent with others creating memories has a particular type of intimacy that lingers with you long after the events of such shared experiences have passed . . . because these are the moments we treasure most.

Now, when you consider how Jesus, God incarnate, chose to enter time and space, experiencing the visceral existence of humanity, moment by moment for more than three decades, in order that we might be redeemed and reconciled – I can’t think of a more intimate way that he could have done it. And when you consider that the Gospels only accounts for a few weeks of actually recorded events, and that the ministry of Jesus with his disciples was three years – most of the time he invested in them likely had the mundane day-to-day rhythms of just hanging out . . . like friends do. This too strikes me as having a wonderfully sweet and priceless intimacy.

The presence of God transcends every dimension (including the fourth), for all things exist in Him. It is this very omnipresence in times of sorrow and struggle where we find comfort, or in times of thanksgiving and praise we experience Him with us. And this is how we know that there is great power in just being present, because it is a gift of immeasurable worth . . . a gift we are capable of giving to one another. “For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them.” ~ Matthew 18:20. Sounds to me like an invitation to show up and spend a little time with each other . . . and let Jesus make that time worth your while.

. . . and remember — we live our lives one moment at a time.