Play Your Heart

Labyrinth Set UpSaturday night on the labyrinth at First Christian Church in Colorado Springs, something unusual happened. The part of my brain that stores and retrieves song lyrics, the part that earned me a reputation as “the walking hymnal” in seminary, had several minor glitches and one major freeze. The glitches also affected that part of my brain that translates music into specific finger movements.

In other words, I didn’t start out on my best foot.

As the audience began to gather, I had posted a picture of the setting and received a reply from a friend–somebody I miss playing with–that said, “Play your heart, brother.”

Truth is, by that time my heart had been worn pretty thin. On two consecutive days, I had attended funerals where I stood with parents who were burying their sons, with spouses who were left alone sooner than necessary. On two consecutive days, I watched as people, myself among them, wondered why. My heart was thin.

I had arrived for the concert shortly after the second funeral, with only enough time in between to make the change from suit to jeans. My heart was thin.

Pastors are human. However, we have a tension between bringing comfort and finding comfort. We navigate the space between processing our own emotions around loss and grief and not letting our emotions overshadow the grief of others. I tend to handle this by holding my grief somewhat in check until I can find a place with those I trust, until the time is right to have my gripe session with God. That time and place hadn’t come yet. My heart was thin.

Musicians generally agree that although we notice all of our own mistakes, the vast majority of them go unnoticed by the audience. They’re not listening for mistakes or grading the performance. They came to step away, to relax, to enjoy. Except for so completely losing track of one set of lyrics, to the point that I had to stop the song and make a joke about it, my tally of trip ups were largely overlooked. Still, the thinness was apparent to me in concentration that seemed to vanish in a mist.

But something happened as the evening progressed. With each song, my heart got a little stronger. Each tune intertwined with the fabric of my soul. Soon I found that I was not only playing my heart, I was sharing my heart. Even in my own thin, deflated state, the music could bring a smile or a tear. Feet were tapping, and heads were nodding.

Music had begun its healing work in me and, I hope, in those who needed a smile or a tear, who needed to move or be moved.