I’d Like to Teach the World to Sing, and the Harmony Is the Important Part

Music is an incredibly important part of my life.  I come from a very musical family (as in, my grandmother was a piano teacher for a thousand years and my father and uncles have all performed professionally and can each play at least two instruments as well as sing).  Our family holidays consist of gathering around the piano and singing carols in four part harmony–without sheet music, mostly, but sometimes we haul out the hymnals and songbooks we all own and use those if the song is less than familiar.  And my mother always had some record or tape (or, once I got older, CD) playing in the house; almost all of my ideas about how Important Events should go are framed by the type of music I associate with them.

I myself am a singer (I can also sort of play some instruments, but I admit being a very basic beginner); I’ve been in a choir of some sort every year since I was about 5.  Singing is in my blood, it’s part of who I am.  And when something is really important to you, what’s the easiest way to grab your attention?  By using that thing.  So what does God usually use for me?  Music.

I’m in the choir at my church, which is wonderful because they’re actually really good, and the director knows what she’s doing–having sung with a director who recently conducted a Hayden Festival in Austria, I’m a bit of a snob about these things, so I was super delighted to find a church that I liked AND that had a really solid choir.  So I joined, and it’s kind of the highlight of my week (second to the service on Sunday, perhaps).  And I’ve earned myself a reputation for being the smiley one, the one that dances–perhaps not surprisingly, a reputation I also had in my college years.

I can’t help it, really.  Music is my channel to God, to the super-material expression of the soul, to the connection of all that is beautiful and stirring and angsty and joyful about life.  Music is the language of my heart, cheesy as that sounds, and it is the only thing that always makes sense to me.  When school is rough, when friends are dumb, when family makes me want to tear out my hair and set things on fire, music makes sense.  I know how it works, I get lost in the sound of it; it’s even better than reading, which is high praise indeed from me.

I say all of that to say this:  my choir is singing “Order My Steps” this Sunday.  (I found a pretty good video of our version, though this isn’t us.)  And it’s a fun song to sing, lots of dynamics going on, lots of intensity within the rhythms–but the lyrics have really caught my attention.  “I want to walk worthy/Walk worthy, Lord/My calling to fulfill.”  Yes!  Yes, exactly!  I do indeed want this, I want to be what God wants me to be, but I would love it if HE WOULD TELL ME WHAT MY CALLING IS.  That would make life so much easier–I could not only walk worthy, I’d dance my rhythmic little self all over the path of my calling.

I gave my first lecture this week (I teach one undergraduate class)–it was on The Rise of Christianity.  Why yes, I think I could do that–and I did.  I lectured for an hour and I still had things to say, and my students were with me (mostly), and it was funny and I had a blast and I thought, yes, this is right.  Most of the people in my life see me teaching, want me to teach because I’m pretty good at it, God has given me the gift of passion about things and the gift of finding where people are so that I can explain things to them in their language, reach them about their interests and where that coincides with the stuff I’m teaching.

And yet…

As I was teaching, I realized I was on fire about the stuff I was saying, not the fact that I was teaching.  I don’t know that I want this academic life anymore, I don’t know that I want to have the papers and the bullshit and the conferences for that one moment when I get to talk about how absurdly lovely Christianity is, and how history and faith can grow together, and see what we can learn from them both?

But I do more than thank.  I ask – ask the God of our Master, Jesus Christ, the God of glory – to make you intelligent and discerning in knowing him personally, your eyes focused and clear, so that you can see exactly what it is he is calling you to do, grasp the immensity of this glorious way of life he has for Christians, oh, the utter extravagance of his work in us who trust him – endless energy, boundless strength!  (Ephesians 1:17-19, MSG)

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