(Click here if you want to listen as you read)
It’s been winter for almost two years now. Always winter, but never Christmas, as they say in Narnia.
Right before everything froze over I was given a gift, as if in preparation for the long, dark nights to come. It came in the form of a light-weight, curved green case containing a cake of rosin, a French bow, and a beautiful cello. I didn’t realize at the time that I was really being given a survival kit.
It feels fitting to be learning an unfamiliar instrument in an unfamiliar season. I already play flute and piano, so I can read music, interpret rhythms, listen intently for tuning and intonation. But I’ve never played a stringed instrument before, so I am learning completely new techniques. Bow hold, fingering, wrist position, shape of the left hand, sweep of the right arm, orientation around the fingerboard. So often I can hear that my sound is wrong, but I have no idea how to correct it.
Every few weeks I load up my cello and take the drive to Naomi’s house. I walk through the back door into a room with high ceilings and wooden floors, that is large enough to contain a grand piano. The house is silent and my mind slows. These lessons, these hallowed moments of singular focus and concentrated exchange between teacher and student make me feel as though I am stepping out of the ordinary, into a sacred space.
Naomi is an incredibly gifted teacher. At the end of each lesson I always realize that I have just witnessed someone doing precisely what they were created for. She is gentle, and yet absolutely insistent that I establish good habits from the start.
“Wrist up; soften your right shoulder; bend your thumb; lean the weight of your arm into the strings; flow your bow!”
As a player she is, and always will be, way out of my league. But she believes in me, and is willing to invest the time in teaching me to play. If I’m attempting something new, or having trouble with it, she plays right along with me, steps down to my level, mingling her sound with mine until I can’t tell which is her and which is me.
I always come away from lessons feeling light-spirited, encouraged that I am at least a little bit closer to being able to make this instrument sing the melodies I can hear in my soul. I never mind the many corrections I am given, in fact I actively seek them out, checking if my technique is right, talking about any problems I have encountered so I can adjust where necessary. Naomi always knows exactly where we’re going and exactly what I need to do to progress to the next step. I trust her implicitly.
It strikes me that my relationship with the Holy Spirit might be a bit like this. I think about how He corrects and encourages in order to shape me into who I really do want to be. When I’m struggling, or trying to master something new, He comes right down to my level to play alongside me, mingling His grace and patience so closely with my own halting and scratchy attempts that I can no longer tell which notes are His and which are mine. I am swept up into playing melodies of love and forgiveness and rhythms of grace that I had assumed were well beyond my capabilities. And I wonder if perhaps I should submit more easily to His correction, see it as a kindness, seek it out, even. After all, it’s just possible that He might know exactly where we’re going, and exactly how to get to the next step too.