thorns and thistles

For the next two days I’ll be miles away from the nearest piano, working with a client to help them better configure their software and design good customer service processes. I’m writing this blog post from the plane. To be honest, airplanes and conference rooms don’t feel like the most artistic environment, but such is life. Or such is my life, anyway.

These days, most of my art is developed for Sunday mornings. While I work full-time in the IT industry, I spend my free time pouring into the life and love of my local church. It’s a small church, and so I serve in a variety of capacities – on the college & 20’s leadership, the women’s ministry board, and as the pianist. Many weeks, it’s a challenge to find the time to prepare something thoughtful for prelude, and I find myself recycling selections more often than my artistic ideals permit. It’s been a couple summers since I added anything new to my classical repertoire, and my piano degree is now a special interest addition to my professional byline rather than the highlight.

There was a time I would have considered this division of my attentions to be the ultimate failure. Hopes and dreams of graduate school and full-time work in music were dashed with the practical realities of ministry commitments and the financial provision of my surprising career in IT. From a distance, I watched former classmates pursue their artistic inclinations in more wholehearted ways and found myself struggling to find the time to prepare the music for our church Christmas concert in between folding my laundry and planning a women’s ministry event.

And yet, the richness of life in this season has far surpassed what I could have expected from the artist’s journey. Paul Westermeyer’s theory of good church musicianship has served well to frame my vision for art in this season: living among the people and giving voice to their song. I’ve lived this truth, and found that my best art hasn’t been produced in the practice room, but in this life among the people of God.

While some art is profound in its universality and its ability to touch millions, other art is intended for a specific context of people. I won’t pretend to know which art requires more or less care and artistry, but the art I am called to is specific. Each week as I prepare to play, the very real needs of this body of believers influences my musical selections. With the body, my music laments over death and church conflict and rejoices in the blessings we have together in Christ. Playing “Great Is Thy Faithfulness” after a recent death or a Rachmaninoff elegy during a Good Friday service simultaneously grants music to the people’s song and provides a context that makes the art more accessible.

In this way, I’ve come to see my very splintering as making me a more effective artist, not less. I struggle to find time to choose a piece for communion on Sunday not because things are in the way of my art, but because they are enhancing it – because I’ve been communing with the saints all week, working in the same thorns and thistles as my brothers and sisters and sharing in their lives.