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 seems 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.

I worry

I worry a lot and I worry often. It’s like the exercise I’m supposed to do but put aside because, well, I need time to worry about life—always so general, always so specific. Worrying takes up most of my time, a full-time job with not benefits. And because there is always more time to worry, I’m worried about how much I worry.

Worrying is easy, at the beginning at least, before it’s all-consuming. It then becomes necessary. The natural response to uncertainty creates anxiety and finds its way into your regular life, and it disrupts it. When you realized you haven’t eaten a proper meal, with some greens, because it just didn’t seem that important, you worry. Or you worry about still not caring about your diet.

Taking a break seems like a healthy thing to do, right? Except, if you take a break you don’t make progress on those things you’ve been anxious about. So, you go back to worrying.

Netflix, The New York Times, and a Schubert piano sonata are all wonderful ways to relieve your worrying self. But you finish the new season of Narcos, read your healthy dose of David Brooks and Frank Bruni, and listen to the piano come to rest on a G major chord, and you’re back to worrying—if you were lucky enough to forget about it in the first place.

Im okay, I tell myself, and I believe it. I may worry a lot, but it’s just that: worry. I know it’s unhealthy, but it’s the one coping mechanism I have at my disposal. I don’t want it, in case you’re wondering.

When will I stop worrying? I might have to worry about that later.

Discipline and commitment

As a musician, discipline is extremely important. You gotta schedule your practice time and stick to it. It doesn’t always work out as planned because you might have to schedule an important meeting like reviewing your literature review with your thesis advisor (coming up soon!). Or maybe you are just having a terrible day and don’t want to practice. Practicing is nothing like a performance; all the glamour just isn’t there.

Practicing is a demanding activity for your brain, if you do it the right way. Moreover, it can be boring and stressful. But you gotta do it.

Before coming to college, I was not disciplined with my practice, or with anything. All of a sudden, I had to develop this thing everyone admires but no one likes.

However, I think it is safe to say I am close to being a disciplined clarinetist.

Just as I have developed discipline to practice, I must do it in some other areas, and there is one that has been patiently waiting for me. Given all the pressure I feel at the moment, much of it self-inflicted, I need to spend time with God. Seriously.

Commitment has been on my mind since school began in August. I have many important decisions this year, both personal and professional. I really need some help, guidance and support. Maybe I would have all those things if I could be disciplined in my relationship with God.

And I’ve tried.

I’ve tried to make time for God at any time of the day. I’ve done it for about a week at  time, but then I start to think, Well, maybe I couldn’t do it today but tomorrow I will.

Perhaps I need to start by treating my devotional life as I do my clarinet practice: with seriousness.

If I have committed and developed discipline in my clarinet practice, this blog and the podcast, God can help me do it with my devotional life.

Perhaps I’ve been too relaxed about what my relationship with God should look like that I fail to see how much I’ve neglected it. Maybe that is why I am so afraid of the future. It might be the reason why I struggle with a deep-rooted desire for transcendence.

Can I really develop a healthy devotional life? God, will you help me? Will you help me get rid of these fears and commit to you?

Shabbat shalom.