Monday, June 9, 2008

The Man in the Balcony

When Megan began to play the offertory at the end of the worship service yesterday, you could palpably sense the appreciation and the admiration in the room. I can only speak for myself, but I was surprised at her sensitivity, her musicality, her confidence as a high school junior interpreting the Grieg Nocturne for her congregation. And then, almost imperceptibly, I caught myself looking up to the corner of the balcony, where Van Cliburn was sitting, watching her play and listening intently. (If you don't know who Van Cliburn is, this blog won't make much sense to you, so you should Google him before you read any more.) I wondered if Megan knew that Van Cliburn was present and listening. And I wondered if that made her play better.

I was not alone. In the choir robing room after the service, I heard a number of people wonder out loud some version of "I wonder if she knew Van Cliburn was there today".

Is there a spiritual application here? Do we live our lives, play our songs, make our contributions to worship with the knowledge that Jesus is present and watching and listening? Does it make a difference? Do we live, play, contribute better because He is present; or, are we intimidated, thinking that there is no way to measure up?

And I wonder if we treat him as though he were simply a man in the balcony.

Julie Gold's song "From a Distance", first recorded by Nancy Griffith and then made a huge hit by Bette Midler, has never been a favorite of mine. It is a beautiful and haunting melody, but the punch line is that "God is watching us from a distance." Sort of like the man in the balcony. I don't believe that. I believe that we are indwelt by the Holy Spirit of God, and I don't believe He is an inactive watcher. I believe He empowers and helps.

You see, no matter how much Mr. Cliburn concentrated and sent "good vibes" Megan's way yesterday, she was on her own. Even her teacher, who was also in the congregation, could do nothing yesterday to help out. Megan simply had to play. If knowing that the great Van Cliburn was in the balcony, watching and listening "from a distance" inspired her, it was she who drew that inspiration and translated it into a beautiful moment at the piano.

I hope I don't live as if Jesus were in the balcony, performing for Him and hoping that He approves. I hope that I don't contribute to worship as though God were an appreciative audience rather than a participative helper. I hope I don't spend all my life singing to God instead of sharing with Him.

Of course God is the object of our worship - I don't mean to imply otherwise. But He is more than that. He is more than an observer, even a keenly interested, really talented one. In a way that Megan could never be "the hands of Van Cliburn", we are the body of Christ. It is not just a metaphor; it does not simply say that we represent Christ. Being the body of Christ means that He works through us, He speaks through us, He lives through us. That is supernatural, and it is not very logical, but it is real.

Grieg would have been proud of how his music was played yesterday. I think Van Cliburn was pleased at the technique he saw and heard. And I think the analogy ends there.

Jesus is not the man in the balcony, listening to how we play His music and studying our technique. No, He is the one whose hands we use, whose mind we have, whose spirit is our very being.

So play.


Chris O'Rear said...

All I can say at first is, "What was Van Cliburn doing at your church yesterday?" That is amazing in and of itself. The fact that his presence becomes an object lesson for you is no surprise at all. It is, after all, what we were raised to do. Thanks for the reflection.

Barbara (Brittain) Elliott said...

Barbara Brittain here (from Columbus Avenue youth/college group)! So glad you are blogging and that I found you! I love Bette Midler's voice, but, like you, have not enjoyed the song "From A Distance." I agree that God is not watching from a distance away, but is involved and very near to us. Thank you for your refreshing words! (And, WOW!! Van Cliburn!) Amazing!