Sunday, June 18, 2006

lesson from a funeral

I am currently in Winkler, Manitoba (the centre of the universe, my husband would say) for a family visit. I flew out to play at my niece's wedding and one of the first things I did was attend a small family funeral service for my uncle who had just passed away.

Now, you should know that I HATE funerals and have not been to one since my father's in 1983. But in Winkler you are expected to attend the funeral of anyone you know, and there was no way I could gracefully bow out of this one. I did want to see my aunt and let her know she was in my prayers and thoughts, so I decided I could probably handle the small family gathering the day before the funeral and then it would be okay to skip the more formal public funeral the next day. I borrowed some funeral clothes (I had not brought anything sombre enough - a black strappy sundress was voted as unacceptable by my family) and let my mother drive me to the funeral home. We visited with some relatives outside for a bit because my mom had insisted on doing the culturally acceptable thing and being way too early, but finally the time came to go inside and view the body and as we opened the door and I smelled that funeral home smell, I took a deep breath, bolstered my internal fortitude, and said a quick prayer for grace.

The evening turned out to be a pleasant surprise. The bittersweet mix of tears and laughter, smiles and sadness, and conservative stoicism and people showing genuine affection (often rare in Mennonite circles) was an atmosphere that touched me quite profoundly. The awkwardness that I have always felt around death seemed to have been lost somewhere along the way as I have walked with Jesus these past 23 years and I suffered from no lingering, haunting images.

Aside from the warmth of family and friends, one "eureka" moment during the evening will remain in my memory for a long time. There was a gospel quintet that sang wondrous songs about the love of God and the joy of heaven, but that wondrousness seemed to be stuck in the words on the page and never reflected on their faces which remained expressionless throughout their musical renditions. In fact, their countenances were somewhat similar to someone straining to swallow a large pill or perhaps a parent disappointed in the report card their child had just brought home. Anyone growing up among the Mennonites is used to this detached form of singing just as the Irish are used to the immobile torsos in Celtic dancing, but now coming in as an outsider, it looked somewhat odd to me. And while I was listening to this quintet, I clearly heard a voice in my head ask me, "Do you believe it?" and I knew it meant...do you believe the music?

I had been rehearsing for several days since I arrived in town for the wedding I was playing at and was having difficulty with focusing and "getting" the music. I thought perhaps I was just tired or getting used to a new piano or perhaps needed more meat in my diet (at least that's what my friend says is the answer to ALL my problems), but I knew this question was a key to the music, the words, the whole shebang we pay lip service to and sing and say and act on. Do I believe it? The answer was, "Yes, of course I do." And again I heard, "Then play like you believe it," and I knew the core of my problems with the music was not a physical or practical one, it was a spiritual one. I had not been playing like I believed the music - I was hesitant and timid and slightly bored with the repetition and even begrudging the duty that had been thrust upon me and afraid to make a mistake and disappoint people.

I changed my attitude and after two more days of rehearsing, I went on to play at the wedding (not perfectly) but with more depth than I think I have played with in a long time. I was able to enjoy the simple beauty of a single note and not feel I had to add embellishments to keep people's interest. I played with more clarity and enjoyed the cadences of old, old hymns like they were a breath of fresh air. I became less aware of the proceedings going on around me (and that can be dangerous at a wedding), but I determined to enjoy the music and play it to its fullest instead of continually checking to see how things were going and if perhaps I should cut it short or stretch it to accommodate the circumstances. At the beginning of the day I had told God that I trusted his timing (the trickiest thing in wedding music) and the only time I did second-guess it and looked to people for my cue instead of God, I made a mistake and started the wrong song (easily fixed, don't worry).

This is a big lesson, this one: trusting God and his timing, and a big part of this is letting it show by playing loudly, fully, confidently, simply, without hesitation and without apology.

I believe it. And most days, I hope you are able to tell just by looking at me or listening to me sing, talk, play, laugh, cry and live.

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