“How do you find time to do all the things you do in your complicated life?” People ask me this all the time, and every time I hear the question, I remember other times in my life when I have been busy and still managed to find time for stuff. When I was younger, I was once involved in 4 simultaneous theatrical productions as an actor, and only one of the roles was a minor one. I remember working 3 jobs after my house burned in 1992 and I had so many things to replace for my boys, who were all still living with me at the time. The answer is simple enough: it’s a matter of priorities.
We make time for the things we think are important, and the other stuff is simply left undone. Like homework. Like visiting cranky family members. Like cleaning the basement.
So, as I thought about today’s second reading, the one from Ephesians, I thought, “I wonder what my schedule reveals about my real priorities? Do I live my life according to the priorities I profess? Or do I live my life according to other priorities, some of which I may not want to confront? Am I still making music in my life, the way I was called to do?”
Each of us has managed to live the past week his or her own way: we’ve all had the same 7 days, the same 168 hours, the same 10,080 minutes. How wisely did we spend that time? Do we know how we spent the time?
My own calendar reflects a variety of well-spent time, wasted time, and some time spent on the wrong (or at least less important) issues. I can name some things I did; I can report the details of some of the meetings I’ve attended, the lunches I’ve had, the people I’ve ministered to directly. But it’s summertime, and I’m away from the rigid schedule of the academic year, so things tend to move a bit slower. After all, to whom do I report in the summertime? Who is there to help set my priorities for my use of time and energy?
We come to church; some of us come to the weekly study sessions in the summer; we take time to meditate or pray or read our bibles or other spiritual books. Much of what we do has an intellectual element to it, and so we have to remind ourselves that our belief in God isn’t just an academic pursuit, or an intellectual exercise. It is about continuing to evolve into the people we were intended to become from before the foundation of the world. To return to an earlier metaphor, it’s about making our lives into the music of God.
It’s easy to think that our world is moving much too fast to keep up with. It’s easy to think that the 21st century is somehow fundamentally different from every other century in human history. Paul’s letter to the Ephesians suggests that we are not all that different from the people he knew and addressed. They too needed to live their lives wisely and make the most of their time. He understood this and reminds us to keep alert and not let time slip away.
First off, he says we should live soberly, which means living in full control of our lives, not allowing drugs, alcohol, emotions or our personal histories to drive our actions or make our decisions. To really make this work, however, we need to surrender to the Holy Spirit. When we do that, when we make room for God in our life, when we get our egos out of the way so that we are free to become instruments in God’s orchestra, we find we have the strength and power to accomplish what needs to be done.
But how do we get to that point of surrender? First, we discipline ourselves to pray. Maybe it’s just a few minutes at the beginning and end of each day, where we allow ourselves to come into the presence of God and to become conscious of God’s love and grace in our lives. It’s simply a conscious surrender to the moment, forgetting everything else.
Some of us understand that we have been called to a particular vocation, whether that be parent, teacher, health care provider, defender, or even pastor. Others have been called to serve in elected office or by waiting tables. Some of us know that we have been given talents by God and are finding ways to use those talents, as a way to honor God. Each of us, whatever our vocation, needs to be grateful for every moment God gives.
Paul also suggests that we can live our lives wisely if we spend time singing together, “making melody to the Lord.” As someone who has spent most of his life performing music, this is a great comfort to me. Those of you who are also musicians know that the gift is something we cannot take credit for, it has been placed within us and simply needs expression. By allowing ourselves to become instruments of the Divine Music, we find ourselves transported into a deep mode of prayer.
The paradoxical nature of God is that sometimes we are called to make hard choices, things we don’t want to do, whether that be to change a job where we are well paid and secure, or to sell our comfortable house and live more simply, or to detach from a relationship that we know is holding us back from being who we are called to be.
From the earliest centuries, Catholics have understood that Christianity is not a solo project. We need the community to help us grow, which is why we come together for Mass every week, to offer our gratitude and petitions, and to sing our praise to the God who sustains us all, and also to honor our obligations to each other. In the Reformed Catholic Church, we don’t have a legalistic “Sunday obligation” to attend Mass because we see ourselves as a more adult interpretation of the Catholic tradition. That does not mean that there is no obligation to attend Mass and support the parish, but unlike the Roman church where the obligation is to submit to the authority of the Pope, here we come to Mass because we have an obligation to the community. The community is depending on each of us to do our individual parts so that all of us can grow and mature in the Spirit.
And so, for about an hour every week, we come here to Mass. We come to be here for the person sitting next to us who is struggling. We come for the one who is barely holding onto sobriety this week and your smile and hug is what will carry him through one more day. We come for the young people who are looking for a way to make Jesus part of their decision-making process as they encounter social pressures that old people, like myself, can hardly imagine. And sometimes, we come because Father needs our prayerful support and encouragement. It’s about being committed to something bigger than ourselves. It’s about being a willing instrument in God’s orchestra.
Itzak Perlman, the world famous violinist, has performed magnificently throughout his decades long career. If you’ve ever seen him in concert, you know that he walks with crutches and two braces on his legs, due to the fact that he had polio as a child. When he walks on stage one step at a time, slowly, painfully, it is an unforgettable sight. He makes his way to his chair, sits down, puts his crutches on the floor, and undoes the clasps on the leg braces. Then he bends down and picks up his violin, places it under his chin and nods to the conductor that he is ready to begin.
One night, however, something went wrong. Just as he finished playing the first few measures, one of the strings on his violin broke. You know the sound when you hear it, it’s like a pistol shot. There is no mistaking what it means, so everyone knew he would have to get up, put the braces back on, pick up his crutches and slowly make his way off stage to replace the string. But this time he didn’t. Instead, he waited a moment, closed his eyes, and signaled the conductor to begin again.
The orchestra began and he played again with such passion and power, that both the other musicians and the audience were stunned. You see, everyone knows that it is impossible to play violin with only three strings. Mr. Perlman refused to accept that, and so he modulated, transposed, recomposed the piece in his head as he played. Those who were there said it sounded like he had somehow completely retuned the remaining strings to the point where the piece never sounded better. And when he finished, there was a stunned silence in the opera hall. Then people were on their feet, cheering and screaming in appreciation. Mr. Perlman stood and motioned for the audience to quiet down, and then he said in a humble voice, “You know, sometimes it is the artist’s task to find out how much music you can still make with what you have left.”
And so, as we ourselves struggle to make sense of our lives, as we wrestle with our addictions, as we try to manage our time and support the people of the parish and make good choices, perhaps it is instructive for us to remember his words. Right now, while we are in the prime of our lives, we are able to make music for God with all the gifts at our disposal. But someday, when some of those gifts are no longer ours, we will continue to make music with whatever we have left. And it will be magnificent.