Thursday, October 13, 2011

The True Song

Jon Foreman has written before about how his songs seem to be converging. He says that maybe eventually he’ll just be playing one long song, a song expressing whatever one thing all his songs now are trying to say.

That came back to me today after I had been turning a new concept over in my head. I love working in analogies, in pictures that are more than pictures. Maybe because I am an artist. My stories and poems and songs mean more than the words say.

I am in a doctrines class this semester, studying the most basic issues of the Christian faith. A consistent theme is that even within Christianity, there are many viewpoints, and many of them are equally defensible. Today the topic we discussed is one that has divided the church for centuries, and one of the reasons is because the core of both viewpoints can be supported as true, even though they seem to be in contrast with each other.

I have been thinking a lot about truth the past few months, fighting hard to find it. I have fought with a lot of doubts this year. It has been a crushing, humbling, and ultimately incredibly productive experience, because it has pushed me to pursue truth with a hunger I have never known before. A frustration I have run into countless times is this simple truth: every human being is fallible. To say that my intellect is an absolute standard for truth is very foolish, because that must mean that my neighbor’s intellect is also an absolute standard for truth (providing we are equally intelligent), and if we disagree, what then? Maybe a good way to say this is simply that if it were possible for humanity to determine absolute truth on their own, we would have done so by now.

So if humanity is ultimately fallible, then there can be no understanding of truth without influence from outside. Even then, the understanding will only be partial, because it has to filter through the dark curtain of our own ignorance and imperfection. No matter how bright the sunlight is, if a creature is born with a thick film over its eyes, it will not see the fullness of the sun.

And what this means is that I cannot ever hope to understand all there is to know about truth. I can understand parts of it, definitely, because in the Bible God has revealed to us everything we need to know (not everything that is because we cannot grasp everything, but everything we need). God in His mercy has chosen to show us who He is, and even though we are so imperfect, we recognize Him. Even the creature with partway blind eyes still knows what light is, even if it does not see its source or see how bright it really is.

So now for my analogy. I have terrible rhythm when I play the piano, and before I started playing guitar it was even worse. When learning a new piece, how I played it was dependent on how I wanted it played. I would turn quarter notes into half notes and slash whole notes in half indiscriminately, and even then no two quarter notes were held for the same amount of time. Time signatures became irrelevant. I just wanted to play. I was incapable of playing with metronomes, and I didn’t feel any need to learn.

In 2009, I performed on the piano for the first time in many years. Beforehand I was practicing, trying to put myself in sync with my friend Ruth’s violin so we could play together. My then close friend, Jordan, was (and is) much better on the piano than I will ever be. He listened to me fighting to get the rhythm right on the second verse of the piece we were playing, and eventually he came over and started helping me. He would tap the rhythm out on the piano or else hum it and I would struggle to match it, fighting to play in sync with him. Eventually we were called to lunch, and he sat beside me and tapped the rhythm on the table as we ate. Afterwards I went back and worked on it some more, forcing my fingers closer and closer to the right rhythm.

After that, my outlook on playing notes correctly changed considerably. There is a beautiful freedom within the rhythm of music. The more you learn the constraints, the more open and free it feels. I cannot explain this, but I know it to be true, for myself at least. I began changing the way I played songs, relearning old songs with the right rhythm. I am still terrible at it, but the point is that I started trying... chasing down the true rhythm of the song, fighting to get it closer to the original. Learning to play all the right notes within the constraint of the rhythm.

I am coming to feel like truth is very much like this. It is not a whole picture that I find and posses. It is an absolute so much bigger than myself that will possess me, and I will always be working to let it possess me more fully, to fit myself more completely within its constraints. I will always be fighting to live closer to the rhythm and melody of Truth.

It takes more than a lifetime. I will fumble sometimes, and my fingers will ache sometimes from the effort. But I will keep playing, keep falling deeper into the endless depths of the song. And of course at times I need the reminder that yes, I am learning how to better move my fingers in time with this rhythm, and I will be able to play so much stronger once I do, but I should never, ever lose sight of the inherent beauty of the Song. Even when I sing along imperfectly. Even when I don’t know all the notes. Even when I have forgotten entirely what the time signature is. The Song is still beautiful.

May I ever seek to sing the true song better... and may I delight in its beauty every step of the way.

- Elraen -


Liz said...

maybe because you are talking music but i definitely understand what you're saying here :) ((ps don't feel bad, it took me 4+ years to be able to accurately count rhythms and i STILL struggle with it haha))

NarnianWarHorse said...

Beautifully written, 'Raen. Thank you for posting this. :)

Becca Johnson said...

This is beautiful. And I loved the analogy you used. It brought a new perspective to the issue. :D I love seeing things in new ways.

Also, I used to do the exact same things with my rhythm while playing piano. The need for survival in music theory is what forced me to learn. :P