Another Christmas program night—somehow I always feel I’m at a recital.
Will Jackie perform his duet with his sister? Can the brass ensemble get through their piece without falling apart?
On this recent Sunday evening, the tension was not as palpable as some of those recitals I’ve attended, but the undercurrent still made itself known.
Parents sat with arms lovingly around their children—children normally aloof and independent, but now somehow in need of reassurance. Even adults who would take part sat, breathing a little rapidly, looking fixedly ahead at the activity before them. Periodically, their eyes would dart down to the programs on their laps, as if to assure themselves that their opportunity to participate hadn’t yet passed. I found myself wondering if their hearts weren’t beating a bit harder and faster than was usual.
I stood near the back, taking in the scene. I would share the stage with fifteen other men to sing an Advent anthem later. There being almost no danger of individual disaster with so many others to cover up my errors, I had no personal sense of impending doom.
Somehow, as usually happens, Jackie and his sister did wonderfully. The brass ensemble did an extraordinary job, their efforts being rewarded resoundingly by the applause of those listening. Parents were pleased and perhaps, a little proud. Even the singing men did their job admirably, sounding better than they ever had.
Perhaps the reason for elevated heart rates was past. It was all downhill from here.
Nearing the end of the program, a large group of folks, some old, some young, approached the stage. They were dressed alike, almost as if in uniform. The moderator of the program explained what was to come.
An elderly lady, who usually attends our services, has been too ill to be there recently. This group had prepared something—a song—to be recorded and played for her later in her room at the rehab center.
There were smiles all around the auditorium as her name was mentioned; this lady is a favorite of many. She always sits near the front of the building, and is visible to most who attend. Another young lady of our group always sits nearby, facing her.
You see, the elderly lady is deaf—her companion in the services, her interpreter. The sign language is a constant through the service, from the announcements, through the music and on, until the conclusion of the sermon. I’m often on stage for the musical part of our worship, so I can see her face beaming as she also participates in signing the words of the songs we sing.
The group on stage this night had learned sign language for the song we would hear. It is not a new song, but is contemporary in rhythm. (A link to the song may be found below.) There is a solo part and also several choral parts, coming in a different times throughout the piece. I assumed the performers would sign for the solo part only, understanding that our friend is used to having only that single line interpreted to her.
My assumption was wrong. Indeed, the entire group signed in unison for the opening solo part, but as the choral parts entered and then split, coming in at different times and layering in, one on top of the other, the “singers” on stage did the same. One group carried the solo part, others, on either side of the group signed for the different choral part.
It was a thing of beauty, almost choreographic in character. The evocative nature of hand motions is a natural thing for humans anyway. These just communicated exact language—no, not just language—even the rhythm and layering of the vocal parts were represented.
I admit it. It was a little hard to see through the tears.
I’ve told you that music does that to me. There is an emotion that music awakes and the tears flow, whether or not I wish them to. This was even more powerful.
But, something bothered me. I cast about for a few seconds and the elusive thought was caught. Our friend can’t hear the sound. She only sees the motions.
I wondered what that would be like. For a moment, I closed my ears with the palms of my hands.
Only for a moment.
Did I tell you the heart-racing moments were over for the night? Not true!
A split instant after my hands covered my ears, I realized I couldn’t hear the music.
I couldn’t hear the music. I couldn’t hear the words.
The beautiful movement on the stage continued, but I didn’t understand the language. Not only could I not hear, I was illiterate.
Quickly, I removed my hands from my ears, but it was too late. My heart was racing and the tears, which had only clung to the corners of my eyes before, ran freely down my face.
It was a good thing I had stayed near the back of the darkened auditorium. I dug my handkerchief out to wipe away the evidence of the tears, but still my heart thumped away in my chest.
I had felt that same panic just the day before. On Saturday morning, I laid under the sink in the bathroom, working on the plumbing. Completing the job, I leaned forward to rise to my feet.
The world spun.
It wasn’t the normal passing darkness brought on by the blood rushing to my head. The room around me spun in huge looping circles, causing me to lose my balance and tip toward the wall. I quickly grabbed onto the lavatory and held on for all I was worth.
With heart pounding and panic-filled, I made my way to my easy chair. I stayed there most of the day.
Not in control. It’s a terrifying feeling.
What if the vertigo never goes away? How will I work? How will I play my horn? How will I play with my grandchildren?
Not in control.
And suddenly, it occurs to me that Jesus, God with us, put aside the authority of His position and relinquished control.
For us. Of His own volition.
He put His hands over His ears and left them there. Well, not in reality, but in essence, that is what He did.
He learned the language as children do. He, who was the Word—from the beginning was the Word—had to learn words in the same way we do.
By rights, every cow on the hoof and every ear of wheat in every field is His to eat, but He was hungry in the desert. (Matthew 4:2-4)
The water of every mountain stream belongs to Him; still, He hung on a cross and cried out, “I thirst.” (John 19:28)
His sight is so keen that He sees to the end of time, yet He was blindfolded and beaten as they taunted Him to tell who had hit Him. (Luke 26:64)
I don’t know if His heart pounded, nor if the tears flowed. But, I do know He chose—He chose—to relinquish control.
For all of humanity.
Funny. My heart races a little again, as I consider it.
There are still tears in my eyes.
Perhaps, it’s time for me to give up control, too.
What can I give Him,
Poor as I am?
If I were a shepherd
I would bring a lamb,
If I were a wise man
I would do my part.
Yet what can I give Him?
Give my heart.
(Christina Rosetti ~ English poet ~ 1830-1894)
…who though He existed in the form of God
did not regard equality with God
as something to be grasped,
but emptied Himself
by taking on the form of a slave,
by looking like other men,
and by sharing in human nature.
He humbled Himself,
by becoming obedient to the point of death
—even death on a cross!
(Philippians 2:6-8 ~ NET)
© Paul Phillips. He’s Taken Leave. 2015. All Rights Reserved.