My eighteen year old son, Jake, is an excellent trombone player. I was reminded of his play as I sat Christmas morning in Jefferson Baptist Church, in Baton Rouge, LA, watching a flutist and several horn players raise their instruments to their lips, then blow just the right notes.
Jake plays in churches, and in other venues. I sometimes watch him raise his horn, to maybe play solo notes in a silenced chapel or auditorium, and I wonder at how he can be so confident that the right notes are about to come out? He is immensely confident that just the right notes will come out at just the right moments. Why is he not more nervous? Why does he not fear failure to a palpable degree?
The answer, of course, is practice. But only partly. Jake knows he may crack a note, or fail in some other way, yet he accepts that he is imperfect. He is undeterred that some listeners may not accept his imperfections or failures. Jake takes a stand that their beliefs, and any condemnation those beliefs generate, are about the listeners themselves - and are not about him.
To take that stand to heart, and to act out of it, is a courageous thing. And that courage must be summoned not just once, but again and again - maybe during the same performance! It is our lot to be courageous one moment, fearful the next, then courageous again. The cycle is never-ending, because we never "make it" in this life. We never get to a place of solid and constant courage. If we are to be courageous, we must summon it again and again.
There are sparks of divine grace in those summonings. Glimmers of God. The sparks and glimmers cue us to turn our faces to God; and to wonder at the loving gifts he bestows upon us, and at his perfect plan.
For instance, why does a loving God allow fear in our lives? In his novel "Gates of Fire," Stephen Pressfield asserts that the opposite of fear is love. Maybe God allows fear so as to prompt us to turn towards Him, and to let ourselves be washed in His love - the true antidote for fear. Maybe God does everything so as to prompt us to turn towards Him.
Consider: If God allowed us to become constantly courageous, could we then still identify fear? Some of my loved ones have died. My love for them lives on, but my memory of the contours of their faces dims with time. I reassure myself: "Oh, their faces were like this...." But, were they really? Similarly, if I were constantly courageous, would the memory of fear fade, like the memories of the faces of my loved ones?
Without a close familiarity with fear, could we anymore identify courage? What would we measure it against? Courage would be constant, normal, mundane, taken for granted. Could we anymore identify a spark of divine grace in that courage? Would that avenue to God, paved with sparks and glimmers, be then shut off to us forever? I wonder. Humbly. And with great reverence.
Christmas morning, I was awash in wonder as I watched the flutist and the horn players: the beauty of the music, the skill and artistry of the performers, and the confidence and courage. All of existence intertwined perfectly, surrounding and flowing through the musicians and their instruments.