Monday, April 12, 2004

Where it listeth 

by Kristine
I hope you won't think it too boastful if I tell you that my little ward choir sounded AMAZING on Easter Sunday. They had worked hard, but we are beset with the usual woes of the ward choir: not enough people, untrained voices, a couple of really enthusiastic non-carriers-of-tunes, too many meetings scheduled to conflict with choir practice, etc. Saturday night I was thinking that one of the songs was going to be awful, two merely passable, and that only one of four pieces we were performing had a chance of being actually good. Our warm-up on Sunday morning did nothing to suggest that any revision of that assessment was in order.

And then they were just so good. I did not think or sense that angels were singing with the choir, or that they had been completely transformed; it was a miracle on a more ordinary scale. They suddenly remembered the things we practiced, they looked up for entrances and cut-offs, they did not sing Jeeee-sus with that awful spread-vowel balloon noise, they were in tune. They were just a little better than they really are. Although I don't understand the mechanism, I feel very clearly that there was divine intervention of some sort, the Spirit bringing things to remembrance, quickening minds, amplifying our meager offering. I have seen this happen often enough to believe that it is real, and not just the wishful thinking of an optimistic amateur choir director.

Still, I can't predict when it will happen. I've had choirs work hard on something well within the scope of their capabilities and had it sound just awful. I've worked with choirs to prepare for times when it really MATTERED for them to be good (funerals of musicians, for instance), and had them be just human and barely good enough. And then, times like yesterday, in a congregation where every last person with any aesthetic sense at all is already in the choir, and where there's a long tradition of, um, struggling choirs, and there's no reason I can see why the Spirit would have an interest in magnifying our talents, and there it was.

We Mormons tend to speak as though we understand how to work with the Spirit. Sometimes we make lists of the things one has to do to be worthy of His (Her? ask Janice Allred) companionship. One of the (very many) things that made me want to jump out of windows in the MTC was a couplet that everyone was very fond of while I was there, coined by some GA whose name I have, in my great mercy, blotted from memory: "the rules govern the Spirit, and the Spirit governs the work." I'm fine with the second half of that, but completely befuddled and infuriated by the first--as if humans could actually "govern" a member of the Godhead by obedience to some list of rules about when to go to bed and get up and how many pages of the Book of Mormon to read every day. One of the scriptures I used to quote at people in an attempt to make them stop saying "the rules govern the spirit" was John 3:8: "The wind bloweth where it listeth, and thou hearest the sound thereof, but canst not tell whence it cometh, and whither it goeth: so is every one that is born of the Spirit." I don't think that scripture unambiguously makes my point, but it does capture my sense that the Spirit is less containable than we want to think. In my own life, I don't have the sense that the companionship of the Spirit, or even momentary visits, are very directly contingent upon my "righteousness" at any given moment--I've been tackled by grace at times when I least deserve it, and left (apparently) alone at moments when I most needed and sought divine guidance. I just can't find a one-to-one correlation between my behavior and my access to the Spirit.

Is it just me?
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