When I started studying music, I was completely blown away by music theory. At last, I had language for the intricacies and craftsmanship and joy that I sensed was there. Many of my classmates were bored stiff by classes in form and analysis, but not me.
Music theory is basically the math of music: a system that allows the organization or structure to make itself known. It can function on the micro and macro level—reducing complex music to just a few notes (Schenkerian analysis) or charting a pattern of every individual note and their order (Serialsim). As I gained more knowledge of the design, I loved it all the more... but the amazing thing was that the music was “good” whether you understood all that was happening within it or not.
Here’s the amazing part—in my opinion, the best composers were the ones who broke the “rules.” It was music theory that helped me put a name to the spirit of revolution I heard in Beethoven’s 3rd Symphony...because, just one example of his rule-breaking, the coda (the extra added part at the end of a piece) is almost just as long as the main section or the exposition. It was understanding Mozart’s abilities to turn the key relationships in sonata form on their head that confirmed his genius in my eyes. Understanding the language within and giggling at a composer’s deviation from the expected—it made me feel like I was in cahoots with them.
These turns of form or harmonic surprises were like gems that Mozart or Beethoven had left just for me inside the deep rocks of their scores. It was a message in a bottle, centuries old, waiting there in those dusty libraries for me to find it.
I often wondered if God feels this way about creation. The master artist, God created this world and within it are all its secrets. Below our feet, way down in the dirt are the colorful and yummy vegetables. Crack open that brown rough exterior and find a delicious coconut. The cure for cancer, in some combination of materials, is waiting as the scientists furiously labor to find it. And whether you understand the intraciticies of creation, God deemed it “good.”
I like to think that God delights in watching us discover the wonders of creation, that God might cheer us along as we giggle and gasp at its beauty.
This week, while reading Psalm 115 (I confess, a psalm I was not familiar with) I came to verse 16 and it stopped me in my tracks: “The highest heavens belong to the Lord, but the earth he has given to mankind.” I had forgotten to think of our planet as a gift... instead of something I have a right to. There are lots of instances where the scriptures talk about the earth being God’s...but I like this verse about it being ours, and given to us as a gift.
What a great gift. It not only sustains us with everything we need, but goes way beyond the utilitarian. God didn’t have to make SO many flowers in SO many colors, but God did. God didn’t have to make mountain ranges underneath the ocean bigger than the ones on land, waiting down there for the fish to enjoy, but God did. God didn’t have to make us be able to fall in love, to have the intellect to contemplate a higher power, but God did. God made us to eat, and didn’t have to make food delicious, but God did. To me, that’s proof that God loves us and wants us to be happy. This gift given to us is lavish and extravagant. Anyone who gives a gift like that is clearly in love with the recipient.
And we all know that we don’t do a great job of taking care of this gift. But even when the oceans are filling with plastic, and animals are held in captivity to avoid their extinction, even when we raise weapons against each other, God hasn’t given up on us.
And just like Mozart or Beethoven or any great composer, just when we least expect it, God breaks the rules of the apparent theory. Hidden in history, Jesus (God himself) breaks into creation, to answer our questions about the giver, to save us from ourselves, and to begin the process of repairing all the damage that’s been done. And by God’s grace, we continue His work of uncovering all that is hidden within this gift that is our planet.