Shout for joy to the Lord, all the earth.
Worship the Lord with gladness;
come before him with joyful songs.
Know that the Lord is God.
It is he who made us, and we are his;
we are his people, the sheep of his pasture.
Enter his gates with thanksgiving
and his courts with praise;
give thanks to him and praise his name.
For the Lord is good and his love endures forever;
his faithfulness continues through all generations.
Last weekend Edwin, Eva Ruth, and I traveled to Bloomfield Hills, Michigan to Kirk in the Hills Presbyterian Church. Our friend Nate Phillips is the pastor there and invited Edwin to preach in a series they are doing called "The Future Church." I came along and played oboe.
This church is something to see—a spectacular example of Gothic architecture, surrounded by lakes and green gardens.
Playing or singing in worship was always something I "enjoyed." I put that in quotes in hopes to conveying the condescension with which I approached these musical appearances until recently. Basically, they were all about me. If I'm honest, deep down I think I felt, "I'm doing these people a favor by playing some pretty oboe for them as part of their service. Aren't they lucky!" This seems so sad to me now, but it's true. Even though I grew up making music in worship, somehow the switch got flipped and I started performing rather than attempting to have a spiritual experience myself. In my defense, it’s very hard, because most of the time when I’m playing anywhere, even in church, my mind is racing--calculating the rhythm and the pitch and adjusting instantaneously, while attempting to sing through a phrase, breathe, support, play the right notes...etc. This is the mind of a musician. It’s something I’ve been working on, mindful music-making. And so, it still surprises me when I encounter the spiritual while making music in church. (Imagine that, finding God in a church!) But this Sunday at “The Kirk” in spite of the hectic travel the day before and the sleepless 6-month-old, I tapped into that “flow” that Julia Cameron talks about in the Artist’s Way.
The second service was held out in the garden, just off the sanctuary, and the organist and I played the prelude from inside by ourselves. The moment had this amazingly private and personal feeling. Since I was playing Morricone's Gabriel’s Oboe, a simple piece I play from memory and have performed MANY times, I decided to make this rendition a prayer. I stood in the empty sanctuary, sang my heart out through my oboe.
It felt like that mystery in the smoke and smell of incense. It felt like a conversation. It felt like joy. For me, it reverberated beyond the walls of that church, not because of my playing (I was so unaware of it, I must say, I don’t totally know how I sounded) but because of all the beauty in that place.
The cane I used to make my reed was grown in France, and the dryness or wetness of that year’s season was in my sound. The sun and the stars of that beautiful place and the beautiful hands that harvested the cane, those that made my oboe, that labored for the perfection of that cathedral—all that beauty was resonating, sympathetic vibrations. It felt effortless, transcendent.
I believe that beauty is the language God speaks. Sacred or secular art, inside a Gothic cathedral or a dingy practice room, when we experience or make beauty we are connected to the divine. God spoke the world into creation--a master artist, making beautiful things out of dust. I don't always do as the Psalmist says... "enter his gates with thanksgiving and praise." Instead, I enter his gates with tiredness and busyness. I didn't realize that coming with thanksgiving and praise would lead to an encounter with beauty, and an experience of joy so deep it could make my heart burst. "For the Lord is good and his love endures forever," indeed.
So what was my prayer last Sunday morning as I played in that empty cathedral? It was a simple one, one that it is becoming my mantra.
Lord, speak to me. Lord, speak through me.
Ari, Nate and Lucy Phillips with Edwin, Eva Ruth and me. Not pictured: Grace, Lily, and Max.