A Few Ends

I thought I’d share a few snippets of what I’ve been working on so y’all don’t think I’ve totally neglected writing. I hope you find a line or a phrase or a word or a meter that you appreciate.

One for Amy…

Oh open your heart, love

To imperfect lives, love

Sometimes true beauty shines

In how we give

Of our time, love

And all that we are, love

You’ll never find another heart like her

And how about this…

You can smell it–

If you Breathe in slowly–

The cool and the crisp

Of Superior.

And if you silence your heart–

And you silence your phone–

You can hear Her soft whispers of love

To the shore.

One for the guy who doesn’t love me…

I’m  so aware

Of your whiskers and eyes

Your fingernails and

Your guitar.

Your warm, gentle fingers

So treacherously close

It takes all of my will

To keep mine where they are.

And one for a friend we made in Eau Claire in May, who is now eight months past her brain tumor removal…

Miracles happen every day

Every breath you breathe, every step you take

And every beat of your heart

It echoes the very heart of God, the steady pulse of Love

Each day is a gift

What will you do with it?

Pax, yo.

Sar

The Master & The Blueberries

My sister is a Master Blueberry Picker.

Two summers ago, I sat in the sand with Maggie and her son, and we picked almost as many blueberries as we ate. The company was wonderful, the fellowship tender. We spoke of the heart and how it learns to love, how it breaks, how it heals, and how it learns to love all over again. She asked about a friend of mine, a man friend that I had been interested in for some time, and in my anxious attempt to thwart the discussion, I stood, stretched, and sought a bluer patch. Maggie stayed right there, her knees planted among the sandy-hilled roots of the ever-spreading blueberry plants. She spoke of her husband, how she had dared to ask her Heavenly Father for a few specific things in her future mate, and how radically He had answered her heart. I had made a list, too, I said. Had I asked God, she challenged in her gentle way. I turned, unsettled, and looked for another spot to pick. Maggie suggested we make a blueberry pie from scratch for dessert, even though neither of us had done so before. 

All the while we sat in the warm sand, Maggie stayed in one spot. I chose a new spot every ten or fifteen minutes. While my nervous anxiety had me always looking for something new, something more comfortable, something better, Maggie’s patience touched every branch of every plant, gently searching for each berry as if it was the most important blueberry ever. She was content in that one space, always seeking and always finding another blueberry. 

I thought of this again tonight as I plucked the beautiful blues from their  stems. I took care to find each berry on a given plant before reaching for a new plant. And even then, I found that returning to a plant often yielded more berries. 

Isn’t it that way with God? So often we hurry from one “God Moment” to the next, looking for something bigger and better and more amazingly provable. Yet, when we do this, we miss so many tiny morsels of God’s real presence and provision in our lives. 

Sit quietly, friends. Allow your fingers to find each berry. And be content.

That is my aim.

Pax Christe.

Sar

The Tangled Sweater

This is a story about a girl who may or may not bear any resemblance to me. Let’s call her Shhhhhhara. Yeah. Shara.

On Friday, Shara was driving home from work, singing at the top of her lungs to the soundtrack from That Thing You Do (aka: Best Movie Ever). The afternoon was sunny and beautiful, but the air was cool enough to relieve the warmth. Shara lived for days like this. Having recently been diagnosed with Lupus, Shara had–as of late–been trying to dress in layers. The Upper Michigan weather had been so fluctuant, and layers helped her to manage the effects of the climactic extremes. On the day of our story, Shara had chosen a bright (not neon, but bold) pink three-quarter shirt under a lightweight black cabled sweater. Bold colors look great coupled with black, by the way.

So there was our girl, driving home from work with the windows down and the music blaring. She realized for the first time in a week that she was feeling good, and decided to celebrate by taking off her sweater. Now if you think that taking off a sweater while driving is a bad idea, you’re right. However, it is a well-established fact among Shara’s friends and family that she can do this without unbuckling her seat belt or taking her eyes off the road. It’s all about the steps, the process, she tells people. In fact, Shara has done this several dozen times in her life and has never had a problem or caused an accident.

Shara gripped the wheel with her left hand and carefully maneuvered her right arm out of the black sleeve. Leaving the right sleeve limp on her shoulder, she took the wheel in her dominant hand and slithered out of the weaker sleeve. All that remained was her head. She lifted the sweater over her head and —

TIGHT.

Not good, Shara. Not good.

She slowed her highway speed to 40mph. There was no one behind or before her, or she never would have attempted this in the first place. Shara glanced down and saw the problem. Her left sleeve was caught in the back of the seatbelt. No problem. She reached back and pulled it free, then tried to pull the sweater under the shoulder strap of the belt.

TIGHTER.

Really not good.

A car appeared in her rearview mirror long enough to signal before passing her. The other driver glanced as he passed, double-took, and then shook his head with a laugh as he cruised by. Shara finally did the smartest thing in this story.

She pulled over.

It was there, on the side of the road by Marquette Mountain, in a tangled sweater-seatbelt with the Shrimp Shack playing on the stereo that Shara had a beautiful, unexpected, ridiculous God-moment.

How often do we look at our lives and think we understand what God is doing? We think that our understanding enables us to correctly (and safely) behave in a way that will bring about the (assumed) end result. The truth is, just like Sarah in the Bible, when we try to make God’s promises come about on our own, we mess everything up. We cause ourselves more heartache and grief simply because we forget that God is the Author of our story. And when we realize that we’ve done it–that we’ve caused more trouble than we’re worth–there’s only one thing to do: Stop. Stop and Untangle.

In more than one regard, this is where I am in my life. I’m untangling a lot of things–music, writing, theology, poverty, purpose, love, family, health. I’m stopped. I am overwhelmed with the realization that I don’t understand any of it. I want to understand, and I thought I understood–but I don’t. I’m caught in my own sweater, and every wrong move tightens around my neck like a noose. You can understand, then, why it’s necessary for me to take time and not rush this process. I’ll get it all worked out. I know I will. I just can’t promise it’ll happen as quickly as it should. I have always needed to do things in my own time, and this is no different.

I’m so thankful that God allows us to pull over and untangle!

Pax,

Sarah

No sweaters were harmed in the writing of this blog post.

The Quotable Floyd, part VI

I can’t tell you how much I love quoting Floyd. He’s witty. He’s real. He’s wise. And often, he’s witty, real, and wise all at once. This semester, we featured the music of British organist, choral director, and composer, Paul Ayres. In honor of Floyd’s retirement, we also commissioned a three-movement piece by Mr. Ayres. It was a fascinating and thrilling process, start to finish. The commissioned piece, The Harmony of Heaven and Earth, which I will write about on its own merit in the future, gave fuel to the Quote Machine.

If you’ve missed them in the past, please go back and read our Floyd quotes from previous semesters.

And now, without further adieu, I give you, once again, the Quotable Floyd, Paul Ayres edition:

  • There will be instances of choral collision.
  • Just smile and put air in the room and sing what you can.
  • You’re not paid by the note.
  • Maybe I should take you higher in warm-up. That’s what you call a choral threat.
  • The song is not over until silence fills the space.
  • We could do that. Or we could do that. We’ve gotta discover it. We’re excavating.
  • Floyd: And that’s just 3 bars!  Annette: We just don’t know which 3.
  • As you can see, [Paul] loves rhythmic displacement.
  • Don’t breathe, by the way.
  • [Paul] completely obliterated the downbeat.
  • If you want to see me make a mistake, then watch closely!
  • It doesn’t have chord changes so much as it has rhythmic energy.
  • Do your feelingful singing there.
  • If you sing the right vowel, the sun will shine down upon your face.
  • It’s too many dissonances in a row to analyze.
  • Feel a gentle alto arrival.
  • Ha! You thought you were gonna be in a key, didn’t you?
  • Let’s have a little Creative Responsibility. If you don’t have a note, don’t sing it
  • Get thee behind me, piano.
  • You’re not getting paid by the note.
  • Middle C is a terrible note; I’d like to ban it sometimes.
  • There aint’ no pitch there.
  • Dissonance leads to consonance, so it must be a whale of a consonance!
  • Now we’ve gotta sing with the guys from some other harmonic planet.
  • It’s a real dangerous thought—to think that a choir knows something too soon.
  • We’re gonna do this in tempo. No? I hear the sound of terrified silence.
  • If it sounds wrong, don’t assume it’s wrong. If it sounds right, don’t assume it’s right.
  • I recommend breathing.
  • Don’t wait for me to cue you if I’m wrong.
  • I shall offer you the beat.
  • I’m gonna have to do a standard illegible 7-beat.
  • Keep doing that! The ladies like that!
  • I’m trying to make it so weird that when we get it right, it’ll seem normal.
  • Yanno, I really do need to pay attention.
  • We’ve gotta run you into the G#.
  • I hear the sound of stunned silence.
  • I like breath in general.
  • You don’t typically see a beat going that way. It’s not normal. That’s okay—neither am I.
  • When we do slow, you shouldn’t practice late.
  • Everything we do is a release. It’s a preparation. If you release early, you will force the next thing. If you’re late, you’ll miss it.
  • It will be logical. Trust me.
  • The men need a pattern upon which to depend.
  • I have no idea what I’m talking about.
  • By itself, it seems deliciously easy.
  • I need to stop making noise, cause I can’t hear you.
  • This is gonna be a whole lot easier if you don’t read music.
  • I may not be exactly metrically perfect…but don’t tell anybody.
  • Oh, it’s good to learn the right way to do things.
  • I wish you were making the same error every time. That’d be easy.
  • That’s what rehearsal is for—to be out of sync once in awhile.
  • Don’t speed up to make up.
  • Sing only with the stick.
  • I’m so wrong, I’m amazed.
  • You’re lucky—you get me!
  • If you don’t write it, it goes away.
  • I’ve never seen music where I could violate it so thoroughly.
  • Be fearless in your breath and attack.
  • We’re gonna make all the music. We may not get it right, but we’re gonna make all the music.
  • Arrr? This is not “Sing Like A Pirate” day!
  • It’s only two beats in that flavor.
  • Rather than ‘and,’ I’d like you to have ‘and.’ Make a symbol for that.
  • There are three levels to conduct, and I only have two hands. I’ll have to roll my eyes or something.

Thanks for reading, my friends!

Pax Domini,

Sarah

The Harmony of Heaven and Earth

The Harmony of Heaven and Earth

One week.

We are one week away.

Next week, Saturday evening, the Marquette Choral Society will be performing the World Premiere of The Harmony of Heaven and Earth, featuring British composer Paul Ayres. This three-movement piece was commissioned on the occasion of Floyd’s retirement. (Shameless mention: NMU’s Vandement Arena, Saturday, April 25th, 7:30pm, Reception to follow the concert. Tickets are $10. We would love to see you there.)

My heart and mind are a jumbled mess. Floyd tells us that he asked Paul for a score of “medium difficulty.” I secretly suspect that Floyd said, “Write us something ridiculously impossible, and then add a Bell Choir so the Choral Society will REALLY have to watch me!” You’d think, by the way, that difficult music would inspire a choir to watch their conductor more, not less. Oh, the irony.

It’s such a beautiful title, though, isn’t it? The Harmony of Heaven and Earth. It makes us think of cherubs strumming on their harps, perched on fluffy white clouds, as flowers sway gently under a rainbowed sky.

But it isn’t easy and innocent.

It’s messy. It’s tense. It’s difficult. It’s unexpecting.

What happens when the supernatural comes into complement with the natural? Do our brains comprehend it? Do our hearts embrace it? Can our bodies move to a rhythm we can’t quite tap with our feet? Students of the Bible understand the idea of the natural man being at odds with the spiritual man. It’s the Apostle Paul’s infamous exclamation: “What I want to do, I don’t do; and what I don’t want to do–that’s what I do!” It’s the searching we hear in those old Rich Mullins’ lyrics, “do You who live in Eternity hear the prayers of those of us who live in Time?” The created world seems somehow separate and offensive to the spiritual realm.

Oh, but if we could see! If we could step outside of both time and eternity, both natural and supernatural…

But maybe that’s it.

Maybe we think they must be logically opposed to one another because we can only make sense of the one. Our created minds long to reject the paradox. Our created minds long to reject almost every paradox (justice and mercy; love and tolerance; foreknowledge and free-will; hope and fear; gravity and levity; joy and sorrow). The awe of any true paradox is that when we isolate the ideas which seem so contrary, we undermine the idea that is leftover. We rob joy of its meaning if it exists in a vacuum without sorrow. Maybe it is this way with Heaven and Earth. We view them as juxtaposed to one another, when perhaps there is a logical harmony that exists between the two. As much as our brains fight it, maybe the two really do “fit” together. Not only fit, but…complete.

All semester we’ve worked on this insanely difficult music. The meter is difficult. The harmonies are difficult. The page turns were conveniently planned by the evil page-turn elves who want to see us fail when the time-measure or key changes every time we turn a page. The piano is difficult (and difficult to follow) The words don’t entirely make sense to us (I’m still trying to figure out what “cloy” means). And in the stress of all this hard work, we found ourselves finally rehearsing with the Bell Choir last Monday.

My heart said, “Bells!”

My brain said, “Great! One more difficult aspect of this music to throw me off!”

Floyd said, “I have three parts to conduct and only two hands. I’ll have to roll my eyes or something.”

Everything within me was prepared for disaster.

Interestingly enough, what happened was the very opposite. Suddenly, this difficult piece of music existed within a structure to give it form. Suddenly, the seemingly illogical vocal score found confidence to be herself in the safe context of both the piano and bell arrangement.

Tell me again, folks…

Tell me there is nothing theological about music.

I have nothing more for you this fine Saturday, except to encourage you to come out and support Paul Ayres, Floyd Slotterback, and the Marquette Choral Society. Bring your friends and family

EVENTS:

Paul Ayres Organ Recital at Reynolds Recital Hall, Sunday, April 19th, 3:00pm, Free Admission, small reception to follow

Marquette Choral Society Concert: World Premiere of The Harmony of Heaven and Earth, featuring Paul Ayres, Saturday, April 25th, 7:30pm, Admission $10, reception to follow; Floyd’s Final Concert with us

Pax Christi,

Sarah

P.S. And are you wondering about Floyd’s Quotes? Oh…heavens…we’ll have Quotes! Stay tuned!!

Distant

“You’re distant, Sarah,” he said. “Hauntingly distant.”

I answered, I questioned, I answered, “I am.”

How can I not be after the week I’ve had?

The year I’ve had. The life I’ve had.

And I’m so angry; I’m not even sure what about.

Maybe it’s my lovers, or my brother, or my father, or God.

But I keep losing everyone I love.

How can I not be distant? Tell me, friend–how can I not?

Cause there are some things you can never unlive–

No matter how hard you try.

So let’s stop pretending that Jesus will fix it.

He can’t undo the choices I’ve made.

And I’m so weary of the grief like I’m weary of snow.

I wish it would melt and flood me so I can feel whole.

But I’m so buried beneath it all.

I can’t feel anything anymore.

How can I not be distant?–I’ve lost everyone I love.

And I’m losing my mind here, in the chaos of it all.

So when you walk away, friend, I understand.

I’ll be here, distant and alone, in the end.

Counten Hands & God’s Voice

For the last week, I’ve been listening to a worship cd from 1988. It was my favorite as a child (more on that some other time), and it still resonates the strings of my spirit. One of  the songs tells us to “lift up your countenance,” and it has kept me smiling all week–not because I’m choosing to lift my countenance, but because I remember being a child and thinking they were singing, “lift up your counten hands.” I have no idea what that would even mean, but in a world of hand-raising Christians, it made sense to my 8-year-old brain. 

Isn’t it funny when we think we understand something, and later realize how mistaken we were? It doesn’t make us heathens. It doesn’t make us obstinate. It just makes us mistaken.

So often, this applies to my hearing of God’s voice. He speaks to me in quiet, intimate moments (like dreams), and I awake with this certainty of what He has said, realizing later that I misunderstood what He spoke.

There is a friendship in my life right now that has been the unfortunate recipient of such a situation. God definitely spoke to my heart about this person–even before we had met–and I misunderstood what God was telling me and why. My friend has been incredibly understanding, but it would be dishonest to say it hasn’t caused some tension between us.

All because I didn’t understand what God was speaking to me, so I used my best logic at the moment and tried to make sense of it.

Still, I have to tell you…there is no shame in mistaking. 

There’s a verse in one of the Pauline epistles (I can never remember which) where we are encouraged to “only let us live up to what we have already attained.” I have loved that exhort for many years now. It reminds me that God does not expect me to have everything figured out; He doesn’t expect me to walk according to some truth I haven’t yet learned; and He doesn’t expect my fallible self to perfectly understand His infallible self when He speaks. He expects me to live according to what I’ve learned and taken to heart.

For me…today…that means a shift in how I respond to His voice. It means prayerfully considering His words and asking His Spirit to make clear to me what He is saying. 

Wherever you find yourself today, I pray that you hear God clearly and seek to understand His words.

Pax Christi.

Sar