Long-time readers of this inspirational reflection could have rightly concluded that music is not a big deal with me. Traditionally music was not important to Quakers. In fact, the first two centuries or more of our history, music was not used at all. And when I was growing up, music was not very present in my family. So I have not had much in my context that supports and values music. I am certainly not against it.
Being a product of the 1960s means I was very aware of the rock n’ roll music that blared from the radios. I recall how aghast the parental generation was when Elvis hit the scene. I liked the Beach Boys and would agree that overall the lyrics of the music in the ‘60s left something to be desired! By the time I was growing up, many Quakers were using music in their worship services, but it often was pretty mediocre.
One of the things that I most liked when I began visiting monasteries was the music. Very often, it would be the Gregorian chants that lured me into the feeling and the words of the music. It felt very spiritual and I am not sure I could explain that. But I liked it. I began to appreciate how music could be a conduit for the Divine Presence. I appreciate how soulful it could be.
Recently, I wandered into a setting where the gathering hymn lured me into a meditative mode. It did “gather” those of us who had come to worship. Once again, I was very aware how affective---how much feeling---the music was for me. The tone and melody sucked me into a deeper place within. And yet paradoxically, it also brought me outside of myself to begin that process of joining and being conjoined with all the other people who were present. It was as if the Spirit had come melodically into our midst and was picking each of us up by our souls and making us one. We began to become one with the One.
I can be touched by the music and pay almost no attention to the words. But this gathering hymn was so simple that when we sang it time and time again, the words started to work their way into my heart. I did not have to read them any more. My voice literally was putting words to music. And this was part of the unison activity of all of us together.
I was vaguely aware of the theology of the words I was singing. I knew they were biblical words and could have told you they were from one of Paul’s epistles. But I really did not want a biblical lesson. I wanted the unifying worship experience. And so I continued to participate at a sub-theological, sub-rational level. It was time to be spiritual. Theory would be shelved in favor of practice.
Time and time again, we began the gathering hymn. “Where your treasure is, there your heart shall be.” I knew deeper and deeper that this was true. In the moment I was sure my treasure was this group of people and our God. When worship is over and I am on my own, I realize my treasure might slip into other, less divinely focused arenas. I need to stay aware of this and watch out.
The second line of the hymn spoke to this reality. The line affirms, “All that your possess will never set you free.” How true, indeed! And that is why those of us who are rich in material wealth have such a hard time with authentic freedom. Oh, we may be free to do, as we like. But we are not really free. We have to be on guard. Again, I understand why my monk-friends take the vow of poverty. Why not opt out of possessions and make oneself really free? Sounds so simple, but it is difficult when we have stuff!
I found the next line encouraging. It tells me to “Seek the things that last.” Again the truth of that seemed so obvious to me. Once more, it is so simple. Seek the things that last. I guess that rules out fancy cars and all the trappings that I know I could easily go after. I have enough money to buy some of that stuff! A new car might be super, but it never can be soulful. And ultimately, it will rust. Maybe our souls also rust when we are seeking after the things that don’t last.
And so we go back to the beginning. “Where your treasure is, there your heart shall be.” Half the time, I have no clue where my heart is. I could probably make up an answer if I were asked. But would it be accurate and honest? In many instances, I doubt that it would be.
My treasure is likely betrayed by what I spend my time and effort on. To what do I give my heart? Making money? Television or computer games? We likely would not say they are our treasure or that we find our heart in those things. But it is nevertheless true. I want to do better.
So I am going to exercise some care with respect to my possessions. And I am going to seek the things that last. In a spiritual group I do pretty well. On my own I realize I need help. So Lord, grant me community---the gathered community. It is a treasure in its own right.