Glimpses of the holy

When I was in college, I had the chance to speak during chapel, a not-well-attended service in the late Tuesday morning. I sat on a stool, with a red notebook where I had jotted down my talk and an orchestral score for a demonstration. Let’s find beauty in the little things, I said. Let’s find it in the words of a poem, in a pun, a tree, in the soles of your feet hitting the ground as you run, or in the sound of the woodwinds during the opening of Brahms’ Symphony No. 2. Whatever it is you enjoy, find the beauty present in those details which seem mundane. It’s there. Try it. See it.

I would add now, however, that such awareness does not need to be restricted to details in things we enjoy, but it should be extended to the interactions we have with others. Our days may be full of uncomfortable and even painful interactions, whether with strangers, colleagues, or family. At the same time, they include small moments of generosity, gratitude, or just mere pleasantness as we share a meal, talk about our day or about an idea or thing that either person just can’t get out of their head.

A poem someone shared on Facebook not long ago popped up on my feed, and I think it beautifully describes these brief interactions and small gestures where meaning is waiting to be found and enjoyed.

I often struggle with who or what God is, but I cling to the description of God in First John 4:8. Simply, that God is love. I think I do this because I experience and see that need for love in me and those around me. And, while it seems to be out of reach, I think we get glimpses of it, and so we keep reaching out. Such glimpses (themselves experiences of love) are not to be found in grand gestures, those that seem to expect reciprocity, but in the small acts of giving of oneself which find their fulfillment in the acceptance and enjoyment of those who receive them.

What if [these small kindnesses] are the true dwelling of the holy? What if we experience God in these seemingly mundane interactions? What if we can find beauty, the holy, in the ordinary?

In the weeks prior to my chapel talk, a professor shared an article on the “disease of busyness.” How are you?, someone may ask, to which we reply with some variant of “I’m just so busy.” Just as I did then, I relate to this—feeling sort of called out—as I see the piles of journal articles I must read, research papers I should start writing, qualifying exams I need to prepare for all looming over. I do think it is important to come back to a place of wonder, where the little things which pass us every day are noticed. Who knows how much of an antidote to our busy schedules this is, but the small things will be there whether we pay them any attention or not.

May we, amidst our hurried calendars and relentless worrying, pause long enough to experience these glimpses of the holy, the divine, afforded to us in the everyday kindnesses we exchange.

Like an old Sabbath

A few weeks back, I was invited to do special music for the church I’ve been attending since I arrived in Houston. Given that I really had not other performance opportunities in sight, I accepted.

I haven’t played much, and I have honestly felt the void. On Monday, I had an excellent practice session. It was productive and fun—one of those you don’t get all the time. Then on Wednesday, while preparing the piece for Sabbath, I hated my guts because my altissimo register just plain sucked (that’s what practicing is more like on a daily basis).

So even though I generally don’t play music outside of the classical genre, I looked forward to performing once more, to feeling those nerves and the adrenaline, to enjoy being shaken by the beauty of music.

My faith has been faltering; my spirit has struggled with finding purpose, my self-esteem with the ever-challenging demands and expectations of a PhD program. But today, playing for the worship service at the West Houston Seventh-day Adventist Church, I felt fulfilled. Making music, participating in worship, if only for a moment, I was home.

The Sabbath closes and I thank God for a much-needed reminder of who He is even as I am overwhelmed with, not doubt, but questions. And I am grateful for another chance to make and share music. I needed it.

My birthday anniversary; the 22nd

I turned 22 last Tuesday. Unless we’ve been friends for a long while, you probably didn’t know. My birthday is not on Facebook and I might mention it once or twice throughout the year.

A few years ago when I was in that teenage (a euphemism for stupid) state of my mind when you want to learn who truly cares about you, I deleted my birthday from my Facebook profile. I have not put it back since.

I should probably put it back. I don’t know why as a teenager I expected people to know my birthday; now, I’m sure I don’t expect you to. You have way more important stuff to store in your brain, like elevating lyrics coming from the genius of Kanye West and Nicki Minaj.

Many people want to offer you their best wishes sincerely. Am I taking that chance away from them? It’s probably not a big deal. If it is to you because you’ll have to consistently interact with me in the near future, don’t worry; there is another chance next year.

The week before my birthday I went through all the cards I have people have written for graduations, birthdays, Valentine’s Day, and other less important occurrences. In one of them my dad said I should never say my birthday doesn’t matter, that it is just like any other day. I guess he thought I didn’t care much about it; perhaps that was the time when I wanted to believe I didn’t care.

This year, I cared. I wanted to have a special day, even if it was spent by myself. So, from the night before I decided it would be a great day and I would eat brunch at Bagels & Joe. That much I knew.

From the time I woke up, I felt happy. It was a great day even though nothing had happened yet. And by nothing, I mean nothing (I didn’t wake up to any 12:01 a.m. messages).

After brunch I returned a DVD of Le Nozze di Figaro to the library and tried to figure whether my student account from college had the right figures. I then paid a short visit to the office where I was a student worker for three years. I walked around the Haymarket, spent some time looking at books at Indigo Bridge Books, used my birthday reward from Starbucks to get a flat white (after basically only consuming drip coffee from The Mill for a month), finished reading Jane Glover’s Mozart’s Women (excellent!), and watch The Lobster.

An honorable mention goes to a conversation I had with my friend Stella, who happened to be at Starbucks studying (nerd!) when I got there. If there is something that energizes my soul and takes my mind off self-hatred (an exaggeration perhaps), it is a conversation with an extremely talented person who just needs a little push.

I experienced the daily doses of loneliness, confusion, and fear, but I also experienced beauty as I hadn’t in a while. And I experienced love that felt so present while being far away. The people closest to me (and yet away from me) called and wrote me. They reassured me I am loved, and I love them.