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Four Hands on a Steinway

It was a living room concert. There were two performers. A piano duo. Two women. Four hands on a Steinway keyboard, in a living room concert. Twenty fingers danced over the keys of one piano with syncromesh precision following the lilting Slavic idiom of Dvorak.

From where I was sitting I could not see the hands or fingers of the two musicians-one must come earlier to get such seats, even in a crowded living room-but I could look full into their faces across the piano, and soon began to realize that they did not play the piano just with fingers, but with the whole body.

I could see one woman more clearly than the other. A beautiful middle aged face with some enriching lines of gray in the hair that swung freely, framing her enrapt expression, as her head bobbed and weaved with the racing score, eyes darting from page to keyboard, feet moving the pedals, her whole body, alive with focused energy. And beside her, the partner-grinning with exhilaration as her fingers flew over the keys.

I wondered at the way the eye read the score and signaled the brain. And how the foot moved, and fingers flew, and the body swayed in response to what the eye read. And how my ears received the stirring sounds, how my spirit soared with joy and pathos, and my foot beat the time as my spirit moved in sympathetic response.

And I realized that those two pairs of eyes were not looking at the same notes, but different notes written by one composer who knew that his notation would bring together into one event the skill and talent of two persons who, sitting side by side, would play what he felt and wrote down.

Just think of it! Anton Dvorak's heart is stirred in the context of his world and he puts down the music of these Slavic themes, expressing as he does, his own perceptions, colored with the inner angst and joy of his own life.

Decades later two women read his score. But it is only because of the years and years of discipline and practice that they are free to play his music-to make the Slavic dances ring in a listener's heart.

In that beautiful middle aged face so intently focused on the score-tongue held just so in the corner of her mouth as the partners raced through the intricate imagery of the work-I say, I could see in her face, so intensely focused on the music, a shy child bent over her piano day after day in youthful years, practicing her scales and pouring all the hopes and dreams and terrors of adolescence into her piano. Until, one day, her fingers were as free as her inner spirit to dance with Dvorak and to relay his song through her own life and body, to the listeners in that living room concert.

But there is more. There was their interaction. Those two artists at the piano-stopping between movements to adjust the one bench to suit their playing posture, smiling-sensing the music with simultaneous feeling. They must have played a thousand times, I thought, as I listened. And afterwards I learned that they played together for hours every week. Year in. Year out.

So it goes like this: Anton Dvorak plus his own study and discipline plus his own experience of life, plus two pianists, plus their own study and discipline, plus their own experience of life, plus their shared technique and the full co-operation of their well trained bodies-eyes to see the score, brains to hear the sound and trigger the fingers to reproduce the tone; and then, of course, my ears to hear it, and my experience of the joy and sorrow of life to relate to it-all that and sounds are shaped to make the heart glad, and life is transformed by the music.

It is a miracle, is it not? It is a miracle! It is a miracle of a Word made flesh. Dvorak speaks. His word becomes incarnate in the heart and mind of two women, and in the movement of their bodies at the piano, my heart is filled with song and my eyes with tears, and my foot is tapping.

Listen! God has addressed a Word to the world in Jesus Christ. And that Word takes on substance, like the music of Dvorak, when bodies freed by faith's discipline, respond; that Word of God addressed to the World becomes articulate when all the parts of the body focus on its message and work together to express it. Then we are changed. Life is changed. History is re-directed.

The Word of God, capable of changing and transforming human history, is addressed to you. The Word of God waits to be enacted by the community of faith. It is a word that is not complete without enactment. God writes the music. We have only to accept the discipline that allows us to play it, and the priorities that its performance requires.

And so Paul the Apostle urges Philippian Christians (Phil. 3:17-4:1) , to join in imitating me, and observe those who live according to the example you have in us....

Is Paul presumptuous to ask others to follow his own example? No, he is asking us to follow the music as he does, so that the composer may transform the body of our humiliation. . .to the body of his glory. Just as an instrumentalist practices, and learns by following the example of his teacher until his own body is free to play the scales and follow the score, so we follow disciplines in order to be free.

"Stand firm in this," says Paul.

But the music is from God. To the Church at Rome, Paul writes: "I appeal to you therefore, brothers and sister. . .to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God." (Rom. 12:1,2)

Follow the music, the Apostle is saying. Learn to play it, give yourself to it, and follow the music. And how can there be any doubt in our minds as to what the music calls for. We have seen it in the life of Jesus. It is spread before us in this Lenten season.

To bring good news to the poor.
To proclaim release to the captives.
Recovery of sight to the blind
and to let the oppressed go free.

It is the word from God who loves the world and gives the Son to make it whole-a living Word made flesh among us, full of grace and truth. What Jesus said and did is for His body to do. We are his body. Each of us has his part, or hers, to play, with feeling. We may not all be reading the same notes. The parts are different. So are the instruments. But the composer hears the sounds of the whole orchestra, or all four hands on the Steinway, as the score take shape on his page.

We play our parts in response to the composer's bidding-each one unique. Each one distinctive. Each one, no matter how singular or insignificant a sound by itself, is necessary to the glorious music of the full orchestra. Each part takes discipline, each contributes equally to the movement of the whole body. We need each other to make the Word of God incarnate in churches, in neighborhoods and in cities, and cultures across the world. Ours is not a private religion. The calling is not for random acts of individual kindness, but disciplined, intentional preparation for collaborative work in the community of faith. So, we "practice the piano, "so to speak, in Lent, every day. We sharpen the skills that enable us to respond to the composer. For 40 days we study and pray, and reflect on our calling as a community of faith. We simplify our lifestyle and lower our consumption in order to make a sacrificial offering through the One Great Hour of Sharing. We remember every day, the life-long priorities of faith in order to:

To preach good news to the poor.
To proclaim release to the captives
and recovery of sight to the blind
and to let the oppressed go free.

The church is not a homogeneous phenomenon. God's music is much richer than that. There is not one single unique and peculiar individual who is not needed. God affirms us in our diversity and calls us together to sound our special notes, to do our special things, for the good of the whole wide world. The Word has been spoken. The music written. What is left to us is to act upon it, to prepare it, to give the music a priority, and to come together to allow the composer full access to our skills and talents until the whole world rings with song.

What wonderful music God is writing! What harmonies for the church in this post-modern, pluralistic era! What joyous melodies for our lives, wherever we are, now, and in the years to come! Practice it now! Sing it on Easter! Live it all year long, and may the Peace of Christ be with you in your calling. Amen.