Recently I attended a Friday midday organ concert at Grace Church in the East Village. The organist performed selections from J.S. Bach. That’s why I went.
To paraphrase Jeremiah, I am neither a musician nor the son of a musician. I have no expertise in classical music, nor do I claim any. I just know what I like - and I like Bach. In fact, to my untrained ear I have always felt his music was unsurpassed by any of the other classical composers, perhaps even unmatched by them. I truly believe his is the music of Heaven.
The concert was lovely. The organist played flawlessly. It was a beautiful day at lunch-time. And, there were fewer than thirty of us there. I counted. Of course, that doesn't include the numerous folks who stopped in, stayed briefly, then exited with backpacks and earbuds in place. Maybe they wrongly assumed they would hear the music of Kanye West or Blake Shelton. So sorry, it was only Bach.
I found myself wondering why we are reluctant sometimes simply to immerse ourselves in the presence of indescribable beauty. Why must we seek that which is often frenetic at the expense of that which is sublime?
Now, don't get me wrong. I'm no musical snob. I spend a lot of time listening to James Taylor, Joni Mitchell, and the Drifters. I love folk, R&B, and even some country or reggae. But, I know the difference between all that and Bach. It’s like the difference between watching a skilled club tennis player and watching Serena Williams or Roger Federer. One may be good, but the other exists on a different plane. Bach exists on a different plane.
The music that day was both stirring and soothing. It contained message and mystery. Most of all, it simply located me for a while in a place where my soul could breathe. And the air it drew in was holy.
That’s what prayer does, essentially. It locates our souls in a place where we can breathe in that which is holy. Indeed, it locates us in a Presence where we can do that. And we don’t always have to talk. In fact, sometimes it’s better not to. It has been my experience that silent communion with God’s Spirit exists on a different plane.
There are moments like that, and we should seek them out and linger with them as often as possible. Great music. Art. Prayer. Nature (looking at mountain ranges, sitting on seashores, or walking through gardens). There are times when we do not have to “do.” In fact, doing would get in the way. In those sacred moments, we are simply called to “be” – to pause, to see, to listen, to absorb that which is beyond us and can lift us to a different plane.
“Be still, and know that I am God.” (Psalm 46:10) If we heed those words in intentional fashion, God comes to us through a plethora of sources. And in each our souls breathe in the air that cleanses, restores, and renews us.