Mar 6, 2015

In Good Faith: Tuning Peg

In my latest In Good Faith column, I liken Lent to a spiritual tune-up. If it sounds familiar, it's because a version of this essay appears in my book Dust Bunnies in the Basket: Finding God in Lent and Easter. So basically I plagiarized from myself.

Tuning Peg

When I was a kid, I sometimes tagged along with my father to symphony orchestra rehearsals. He was a conductor with the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra in the 1970s and so when a babysitter got sick or my mother was working, I’d accompany him to the old Lyric Theater downtown. 

When I wasn’t hanging out in the dressing room with the poker-playing horn players or wandering around backstage among the huge double bass cases and assorted timpani drums, I’d be out exploring the red velvet-lined boxes in the balcony. 

Looking back, these were pretty special moments, memories I particularly cherish since my father died of cancer at fifty-two.

You could say that one of the soundtracks of my childhood was the tuning of the orchestra. If you’ve ever been to a classical music concert you know that they all start with the same ritual tuning. After a nod from the concertmaster, the principal oboe player gives them an A and then the rest of the orchestra tunes their instruments off of the oboe which, of all the instruments, provides the truest pitch. It just takes a few moments, but they always tuned up at the beginning of the rehearsal and then periodically throughout it if my father heard something that didn’t sound quite right.

The spiritual life is a bit like an orchestra in this regard. Over time, instruments naturally get out of tune if left alone. Strings in particular are very sensitive to cold or humidity. A violin string might stretch out, causing it to go flat. Or it might constrict, causing it to go sharp. A violinist must do a bit of fine-tuning with the pegs to get the instrument back in playing condition. 

In a sense, the season of Lent is the church’s tuning peg. Because our priorities can become slightly off key, Lent brings us back into tune, allowing and encouraging us to live again in harmony with God. It’s easy to let our spiritual lives get away from us. We get busy; we get self-absorbed; we get bogged down by endless activity. We let the minutiae of life drive our priorities, and suddenly we find ourselves out of tune with God. 

It might be so subtle that we hardly notice that our spiritual life has gone a bit flat, or it might be strident, atonal disharmony. Either way, Lent holds the potential to bring our spiritual lives back into tune. It encourages self-reflection and a return to the basics of our faith.

Lent forces us to reconsider the priorities of our lives. It demands we face the questions about what is truly important. There’s a natural sifting of the superfluous and nonessential pieces of our lives that brings us back to the brass tacks of the human experience. The basics of family and friends, shelter, food, and helping others in need are often what remain. And at the heart of these is our relationship with the living God, the God who creates, redeems, and sanctifies us, the God who joins us on the journey of life and faith, whatever trials and tribulations we meet along the way.

Throughout Lent, I encourage you to allow your spiritual tuning peg to be turned, if even just slightly. It requires obedience to the ultimate conductor of our lives yet results in ever-increasing peace, joy, love, and harmony.


Anonymous said...

Thank you for this wonderful image. One of my favorite sounds is an orchestra tuning up. Now it has a deeper meaning for me.

aj said...

This image resonates well with me, a fiddler. The violin can go slightly off without the player realizing it, because she can compensate by finger placement. This works until you play an open string, when you hear how far out of tune you may have gone.

Anonymous said...

My father is a harpsichordist, and one of my earliest memories is of lying in bed, falling asleep, listening to him tune the instrument in the living room.