Hard Realizations: Black, Daunting Dots
I found myself sitting in the middle of my room, violin in hand, staring at my Manhasset music stand. The stand had become a dear friend over the years, but as I looked at the page that lay on its matte surface, the notes stared mockingly back at me. Rows of the black, daunting dots sat silent on the page. My “creative being” no longer responded to the sweet notation of my favorite composer, Saint-Saëns.
Why was I having such a hard time? I wanted to lift those notes off the sterile page and transform them into an audible masterpiece, but my creativity had drained away. A self-condemning voice rattled around my brain, “You should be able to do this…you’ve been playing for 21 years…what a waste, you can’t even play in front of people anymore.” I did not understand. The Lord had blessed me with the opportunity to serve as His FOCUS missionary in one of the top, thriving musical cities of the world. Any artist would say, “Take me to New York City!” And I was given, what I considered, the most picturesque, artistically-conducive atmosphere: wood floors, crown molding, the hustle and bustle of 7th Avenue outside my window. This for sure would give me the creative energy to express my musical intuitions, right?
I so desperately wanted to break through this creative-block and prove the voice inside my head false. But I could not will myself into creativity. Why?
Soul Stumping Statement: Peeling Back the Layers
“Music ‘imitates the impulses of the soul’.” – Plato
The Franciscan Friars of the Renewal lived just up the road from my work at Columbia University, and I enjoyed my regular visits to see one of my good, priest friends. On one such visit, he said something I’ll never forget. I had told him that I felt musically defeated, that I didn’t know what to do, that my creative passion had left me. Father responded so perceptively, “Leah, your music is indicative of the state of your soul.” Wow, Father, strong words.
My music was no longer vibrant, no longer free as it once was. Did this mean my soul was no longer vibrant or free? Jesus was inviting me to peel back the layers of life that had been slowly suffocating my soul’s vibrancy. It had been a very hard year with trials in both work and personal life, but I did not really think too much of it because, after all, people go through trials all of the time – that’s life. This fact, however, was not the point. “Muscling through” these hard situations by myself had caused my heart to harden. I thought I had learned the lesson of surrender a long time ago, but Jesus was calling me deeper.
Artistic Vulnerability: Authentic Expression
“Music lays bare man’s inner existential condition, removing veil and façade.” – Josef Pieper
God was also revealing more of the puzzle through an unexpected source, Muneko, my violin teacher. As my graduate school auditions approached, I brought my dilemma to her attention. I needed to overcome the horrible stage fright that accompanied my creative-block. Her response intrigued me. She asked, “When you perform do you ask the audience, ‘Is this Okay? Do you approve?’ with your playing, or do you state, ‘I have something very important to share with you. Listen to me.’” I definitely associated with the first statement since much of my life as a musician involved being critiqued. She went on to say that to be an artist means to express something deep within your soul, and that takes courage and confidence in what you are trying to express.
The question that followed of course was, “Did I believe that I had something worth expressing, and did I have the courage and confidence to express it?”
Problem Resolution: Connecting the Dots
“…Music ‘may be nothing but a secret philosophizing of the soul.’” –Josef Pieper
The Lord knew what He was doing (understatement of the year) when he spoke through priest and Muneko. Leading up to that point, music had become a duty. Black notes on a staff had become a list of errands on lined paper. Gone were the days when my creativity was a deep expression. My approach to music paralleled my approach to life. Since I was trying to “muscle through” life and even ignore some of the “notes,” my days had become a series of skimming-the-surface obligations rather than pieces of a meaningful, beautiful masterpiece. I was trying to be something that I was not created to be: my own savior.
Salvation does not reside in our own hard work, in our check-lists, or the ability to just “suffer through.” Salvation resides in abandonment to Christ in all things, and Christ prompts us to follow him in the depths of our hearts. Only when I gained courage to trust the Lord and surrender those things which had caused my heart to harden, did I authentically experience life with Him and the freedom to once again create as His musician.
What is Worth Expressing? : Embracing the Journey
“When you are who you are called to be, you will set the world ablaze.” – Catherine of Siena
Suffering with, in, and through our Lord allows us to become our most authentic selves; but not just the phenomenon of suffering — experiencing all that life gives us with, in and through our Lord allows us to become fully alive. This reality is what we call journey.
I now take this approach to life: through everything, the Lord is revealing to me whom He has called me to be. He does not want me to compartmentalize my life away from Him. Jesus gave me this creative-block to remind me that I must daily surrender to the Divine Artist so that I can discover my masterpiece with, in and through Him.
All things in life are a gift, and through all my life Jesus has continually expanded my heart to better know and love Him, and thereby better love all of those around me. And this beautiful truth is not just for musicians. You don’t need some “artistic dilemma” to realize that you must walk life’s journey in daily intimacy with your Creator.
- Take a moment and ask, “What is blocking me from truly experiencing authentic life?”
- Make a list of those things which you avoid or that you do not understand, and be brutally honest with Jesus in prayer.
- Then, open your hands and surrender them to Him. Trust me, He will deliver.
Maybe it will not be in the way that you expect, but be patient and listen. Fulton Sheen explains, “He has the model, and He has the reality: the blueprint and the edifice, the score of the music and the way we play it.” When you surrender and begin to see the original blueprint of your life, you will become your authentic self and in turn set this world ablaze with His love. This is the journey—not something far from experience, but the experience of following Him daily. Let your life be a masterpiece for Him.