A few days ago, I had a vision during my morning devotions. I was reading Psalm 148, which includes lines like this:
Praise the Lord!
Praise the Lord from the heavens;
praise him in the heights!
3 Praise him, sun and moon;
praise him, all you shining stars!
7 Praise the Lord from the earth,
you sea monsters and all deeps,
8 fire and hail, snow and frost,
stormy wind fulfilling his command!
10 Wild animals and all cattle,
creeping things and flying birds!
11 Kings of the earth and all peoples,Psalm 148:1, 3, 7-8, 10-11 (New Revised Standard Version)
princes and all rulers of the earth!
The whole Psalm goes like that — it’s a call for all of creation, including people and creatures and inanimate objects, to praise God. As I read, I saw myself as the conductor of an orchestra. The orchestra was the sun and moon; the kings and princes; the hail, snow, and frost; the sea monsters. All of creation was in the orchestra pit, and I was conducting them, calling forth praise from all of them. As I moved my hands, I called on each of them to sing in their own way, creating together a majestic symphony.
I shared this image to my spiritual director yesterday, and she asked me where God was in this picture. My immediate answer was that God was in the sheet music that we all followed, that God had written it and we were performing it — she said, “It’s like God’s journal,” and I agreed. I felt glorious while observing this image, and while relating it. I felt like I had an important role to play, that my particular gifts and talents had a place here. I also felt humbled, that I had this opportunity to be a part of the creation’s song of praise. I didn’t feel arrogant or proud that I was in a special role, but honored. I felt like I was glimpsing something similar to what John of Patmos reports in the book of Revelation, all the creatures of earth before God’s throne praising.
9 After this I looked, and there was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, robed in white, with palm branches in their hands. 10 They cried out in a loud voice, saying,
“Salvation belongs to our God who is seated on the throne, and to the Lamb!”
11 And all the angels stood around the throne and around the elders and the four living creatures, and they fell on their faces before the throne and worshiped God, 12 singing,
“Amen! Blessing and glory and wisdomRevelation 7:9-12 (NRSV)
and thanksgiving and honor
and power and might
be to our God forever and ever! Amen.”
And at the same time, I felt like I was living out the calling of Genesis 1:28, when God blessed humankind and gave them “dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the air and over every living thing that moves upon the earth.” The word dominion in this verse has been interpreted in so many ways, some very destructive. I usually believe it means something close to stewardship, that humans are called to take care of creation. But in this vision, I wondered if maybe the way we are to live out that dominion, that stewardship, is precisely by being the conductors of the world’s symphony of praise? Was this a sign of our role in the world?
Perhaps. Or did it mean something else? Certainly it didn’t mean that I’m called to be the ruler of the world, or to somehow call all the world’s people into harmony, as much as I might wish that was someone’s calling. Could it be connected to my role as pastor? Is my role there to call forth all the diverse members of my congregation to praise God in one voice? Well, maybe. That’s an interesting interpretation of a pastor’s job description. But I don’t think that’s what this was about.
No, it felt more like it might be about something inside me. Maybe it was about what I’ve been doing internally these past six weeks or so; maybe I’ve been acting as the conductor of my own emotions and thoughts. This resonates with me, because one of the things I’ve done in my morning meditation time each day is try to see my thoughts and feelings simply as thoughts and feelings. They’re not good, they’re not bad, they just are. And they don’t define me. I am not my thoughts. I am not my feelings. I have my thoughts, and I have my feelings, and they are very important things. But they are not me. I’ve been trying to acknowledge them, not ignore or belittle them, but simply acknowledge them, and not let them determine who I am and what I want to do.
I’ve also been learning lately how to discern what my values are, i.e. what is important to me, how I want to act and be in the world. It is these values that I’m trying to follow, not my thoughts or feelings. Instead, I can make use of my thoughts and feelings to help me live out those values. Thoughts and feelings are very important guides, perhaps advisors, but they don’t get to call the shots. I do. Perhaps my thoughts and emotions are the instruments in my orchestra pit, all called in their own way to offer praise to God. And perhaps the sheet music we’re all following is composed of the values I follow, as I try to interpret God’s calling to me.
If one instrument in an orchestra starts to play too loudly, or to play out of tune with the others, or to play an entirely different piece, the symphony is lost, and the beautiful music turns to chaos Perhaps that’s what happens when a thought or a feeling get too much attention, when they get out of balance. The way I can live in a healthy way is to balance them by conducting them, by trusting that everything that goes through my mind and heart is worthy of listening to, but not necessarily above all else. I can follow the score on the music stand in front of me, and call some thoughts to play louder, others more quiet. I can bring out other instruments like the tools and coping skills I’ve learned lately, calling them to play in harmony and gently bring other thoughts back into rhythm. And perhaps, this symphony can truly be a work of art. Maybe it’s my opus. One of God’s opuses, the one I’ve been given to play.
And it ties in with what I wrote about yesterday, about the way I’m learning to play the theremin. After all, the hand motions you use to play that strange and wonderful instrument are kind of, sort of, like the hand motions of a conductor as they bring forth music from the orchestra. Like a conductor with but one instrument, as I summon music out of this electronic wonder, I will do so without touching it, by beckoning those sounds to come forth with my hands. I am so grateful for that first theremin lesson I learned two days ago, the lesson that taught me that I don’t need to follow any particular rules, that there’s not one right way to hold myself and conduct myself — that I can play as I practice, that I can explore while I practice, that I can create while I practice.
I can take that playful attitude into my self-conducting as well. I envision myself standing before the orchestra pit, where sit my thoughts, my feelings, my emotions, my fears, my passions. Among them also sit my tools and coping skills. And everything else I’ve learned thus far throughout my life. There are empty seats there, reserved for new things I will learn, new shades of emotions I will experience. And I stand before them, ready to play. To call them to play. To play together. I don’t have to get this perfect. Wrong notes will happen. We’ll laugh together when they do. Some instruments will get lost in the music — together, we’ll bring them back. I, the conductor, will sometimes get lost as well. And when I do, I know that there are other conductors around me who will help me find my way again. And always, always, the master conductor of it all, the God who made all of this, will always be there to catch me.
Praise the Lord!