A friend recommended a YouTube performance of “The Moldau,” the great symphonic poem by Bohemian composer Bedřich Smetana. Reviews called it “a stunning performance,” as indeed it was. Especially the interplay between flutes and clarinets in the opening phrases.
But as the symphony progressed, the camera kept cutting away, for a second or two, to a lone man playing the triangle.
A triangle is perhaps the simplest of all musical instruments. It’s a bent piece of metal. It can play one note. That’s all. It doesn’t have the range of a violin, the power of a trumpet, the deep reverberation of tympany.
And yet the person playing that triangle had to believe that his one note was just as essential to the whole symphony as the first violinist’s cascade of melody.
That one note had to come at the right time. Exactly the right time.
At the wrong time, his tiny “ting” would never be heard at all. Or worse, it might interrupt a rest, breaking a hush of expectation.
His part mattered. Even if it was only one note.
Playing our one note…
I think there’s a parallel there for all the rest of us. Only a few of us qualify, metaphorically, as first violin or conductor. But we each have a part to play in the great symphony of life. Even if it’s only to tinkle our triangle at the right time.
It’s the timing that matters. Perhaps the letter I write on behalf of a prisoner of conscience, somewhere. Or the donation I make to a health research team, somewhere. Even a telephone call to a friend I haven’t heard from in years.
They’re such little things. But who knows – certainly not me! – what effect they might have?
… can make a difference
I admit to occasional feelings of depression about the state of the world. Governments at various levels who seem obsessed with the own ideological agendas, while ignoring poverty, prejudice, and inequality. Corporations consider their short-term profits more important than the long-term survival of pollinating insects, fish stocks, even human lives.
I despair when I read recent UN reports that a million more species, both plant and animal, hover on the edge of extinction. And that the greenhouse gases that contribute to runaway global warming have now reached higher levels in the atmosphere than at any time since humans first emerged.
Despite those who continue to deny that mere humans could possibly have such an influence on anything as massive as a planet, the evidence cumulatively convinces me that human activities are the primary cause. There’s even a name for it: the Anthropocene Era.
Which sounds much more benign, somehow, than the Sixth Great Extinction.
And I feel helpless. Who am I, after all? One individual. One eight-billionth of the problem. I have better odds of winning a lottery!
Certainly, I may influence some readers, but I have an audience of, at most, a few thousand people. About one four-millionth of the world’s population.
But suppose I never said anything. Suppose I never attempted to say anything. Doing something might have a positive effect; doing nothing certainly won’t.
It would be like not bothering to tinkle my triangle at all.
Copyright © 2019 by Jim Taylor. Non-profit use in congregations and study groups, and links from other blogs, welcomed; all other rights reserved.
To comment on this column, write email@example.com
I rather wondered what reactions I would get to last week’s column, where I argued that “Love is God” – which has some unorthodox implications. All but one response was enthusiastic.
Tom Watson wrote, “I like the concept that undergirds your equation: “Where there is love, God is. Where there is no love, God is not.” Works for me.
Don Sandin wrote, “LOVE the article!” (The capital letters were his, not mine: JT)
Isabel Gibson said the article “reminds me of ‘A God that Could Be Real’ (the book by Nancy Ellen Abrams) except shorter and clearer. Many thanks.”
Bob Rollwagen also liked the centrality of love: “It does not matter how we got here, the focus must be what we do about life while we are here. Oneness is a positive approach.”
Then Bob started on concepts of God not characterized by love. “An example might be how Raptors fans felt when their team won the first game of the NBA finals. Some may even have felt Divine intervention. Did God intend each fan to pay $1000s to be in the building, while dropping a toonie into the paper cups held by starving street people on their way in? Did God help them elect a provincial gov’t that reduces public services for the disadvantaged because they don’t want to pay taxes? Did God put the idea of ‘a Buck a Beer’ in someone’s head? These are people who have not evolved far enough to understand the concept of oneness. God is real when love is present, when kindness rules, and when oneness is understood.”
The column also prompted John Hatchard to revisit his spiritual history: “As a child and then a teenager, my thinking was never about God. I preferred the name Lord … until a couple of months before my eighteenth birthday. I was recovering from a serious ‘greenstick fracture of the heart’ but was still feeling a desire to spend time alone. In six months I would be called up to national service and had premonitions of what that might include.
“One warm afternoon, I cycled out into the countryside north of town. There were no houses and no people around. It was warm and very quiet. Finding a suitable spot in the sun with a good view out across the heath land, I sat for a rest.
“Suddenly I was aware that something was different. There was something in the air, a quality, a subtle energy -- a presence that transformed the whole scene around me. There was this overwhelming feeling that I wasn’t alone, that I had company. But I could not see anyone. I sat soaking it up and suddenly realised that where I had always felt I was alone, in fact I could never be alone. Indeed, I never had been alone. The Lord was always there. I couldn’t get away from him.
“At the same time, I also knew that the Lord could not get away from me. I was his creature. We had a very close, mutual relationship. This knowing that God and I were literally stuck with each other was so strong that I needed to make a note of it before returning to so-called normality.
“That moment sealed something into my life that would never leave. It would be a point of reference for everything else afterwards. It still is and the rest of my life is really just concerned with having that relationship and allowing it to lead me through the years.
“But lately, this relationship has become a subject I feel reluctant to discuss. That love exists I know. It is the finest energy we can name or experience -- ever! You get close when you say, not that ‘God is Love’ but rather ‘Love is God’. For me it is enough to say ‘Love is’.”
I am reminded of the first verse of the Tao Te Ching, composed by Lao-tzu 25 centuries ago, at a time that was as confusing and disordered as ours is today. That verse is:
The Tao that can be told
Is not the eternal Tao.
The name that can be named
Is not the eternal name.
Many words can be substituted for the word Tao to make a connection with the wisdom it contains, including the word God itself. How do we dare to think that our limited awareness is capable of talking about That which is the ‘Source of All That Is’…”
Psalm 104 must have posed some problems for me; I have six different paraphrases of it. This one, for verses 24-34, comes closest to my present understanding.
Millions of species, billions of galaxies --
numbers become meaningless chains of zeroes.
The more we explore the universe,
the more amazing, the more astonishing,
becomes the complex unity of our relationships.
Just because we cannot see things
doesn’t mean they don’t exist.
Unaided, we cannot see beneath the surface of the oceans
where life teems in myriad forms.
Without a microscope, we cannot see
the life teeming a drop of water.
Macro- and micro-, astro- and nano-,
all in their own way warp the fabric of space/time.
The loss of any element
changes the equation,
tilts the equilibrium,
forces permutations and combinations to re-order themselves.
We are at once diminished and born anew.
The universe will outlast us
but even it will not last forever.
Entropy or implosion will wipe creation clean.
Meanwhile, let us rejoice
in a welcoming smile,
in the dew on a sunny morning,
in the discovery of a species, a particle, an idea.
Let our hearts sing and dance
like the quantum packets of energy
whose vibrations form the mountains, the trees, the stars.
May our awareness of interconnectedness raise our threshold of awe
for the life that breathes in us and into us,
and for the original flame that still burns within us.
For paraphrases of mostof the psalms used by the Revised Common Lectionary, you can order my book Everyday Psalmsfrom Wood Lake Publishing, firstname.lastname@example.org.
If you want to comment on something, send a message directly to me, email@example.com.
To subscribe or unsubscribe, send an e-mail message to firstname.lastname@example.org. Or you can subscribe electronically by sending a blank e-mail (no message or subject line) to email@example.com. Similarly, you can un-subscribe at firstname.lastname@example.org.
I write a second column each Sunday called Sharp Edges, which tends to be somewhat more cutting about social and justice issues. To sign up for Sharp Edges, write to me directly, email@example.com, or send a note to firstname.lastname@example.org
And for those of you who like poetry, I’ve started a webpage http://quixotic.ca/My-Poetrywhere I post (occasionally, when I feel inspired) poems that I have written. If you’d like to receive notifications about new poems, write me at email@example.com, or subscribe yourself to the list by sending a blank email (no message) to firstname.lastname@example.org(If it doesn’t work, please let me know.)
To use the links in this section, you’ll have to insert the necessary symbols. Some spam filters have been blocking my posts because they’re suspicious of too many web links.
Ralph Milton’s latest project is a kind of Festival of Faith, a retelling of key biblical stories by skilled storytellers like Linnea Good and Donald Schmidt, designed to get people talking about their own faith experience. It’s a series of videos available on Youtube. I suggest you start with his introductory section: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7u6qRclYAa8
Ralph’s “Sing Hallelujah” -- the world’s first video hymnal -- is still available. It consists of 100 popular hymns, both new and old, on five DVDs that can be played using a standard DVD player and TV screen, for use in congregations who lack skilled musicians to play piano or organ. The original website has been closed down, but you can still order the DVD set through Wood Lake Publications, info@woodlake,com
Wayne Irwin's “Churchweb Canada,” an inexpensive service for any congregation wanting to develop a web presence, with free consultation. <http://wwwDOTchurchwebcanadaDOTca>
I recommend Isabel Gibson’s thoughtful and well-written blog, wwwDOTtraditionaliconoclastDOTcom. She also has lots of beautiful photos.
Tom Watson writes a weekly blog called “The View from Grandpa Tom’s Balcony” -- ruminations on various subjects, and feedback from Tom’s readers. Write him at tomwatsoATgmailDOTcom or twatsonATsentexDOTnet
ALVA WOOD’S ARCHIVE
I have acquired (don’t ask how) the complete archive of the late Alva Wood’s collection of satiric and sometimes wildly funny columns about a mythical village’s misadventures. I’ve put them on my website: http://quixotic.ca/Alva-Wood-Archive. You’re welcome to browse. No charge.