Have you ever gone searching for something and found something else you weren’t expecting but seemed far more significant in that moment? I have quite often – shopping, travelling into a new place, searching the internet… Sometimes, it even feels like the ‘something’ finds me.
When I began high school I never considered music might become a significant interest. I had never really thought about. In the first few weeks of high school I heard the school brass band play a few times. They were a very, very good band – Australian Schoolboy champions, or something like that. I was fascinated that boys my age or a little older could actually play these instruments and make this amazing sound. I was more amazed when I discovered that some of the boys in my class joined the band and could already play trumpets and trombones, drums and other things.
Over those first few weeks I felt a sense of wonder and was drawn to the music. When the bandmaster invited people who would like to join to come to the music room one lunchtime I found myself nodding in agreement and realised I was going to the music room at lunchtime. I wasn’t sure why or what I was looking for, hoping for. I don’t know what it was within me that drew me to the music and the need or desire to play an instrument. All I knew was that it was calling me and I had to respond, to go and see what it was offering, what it was all about.
At lunchtime I was in the music room and the bandmaster, one of the music teachers, waxed lyrical about music and instruments and then grabbed a trumpet and did things I never realised could be done on a trumpet (he was the Australian Bb cornet champion at the time). I was flabbergasted and excited and suddenly discovered I was in a place I never expected to be! He handed around some instruments for us to try and play, having shown us how to make the sound. It wasn’t easy, I discovered. I ended up with a trombone because I couldn’t get a sound out of a trumpet. Over the next few months I tried various instruments and settled on a baritone and euphonium (like small tubas). Whilst I learned a bit, it didn’t really work out well and after some consultation I was offered the opportunity to have a go at the newly acquired clarinets with the new music teacher. Perhaps she was a little more patient or maybe I was just more suited to woodwind but my progress there was much better. Eventually, there was a saxophone available and I jumped at the opportunity. It took a bit of getting used and a lot more air than the clarinet, but I felt like the instrument had found me. I have loved playing this instrument for many years.
As I look back, that was the beginning of a very significant journey that I would never have imagined. I did elective music through high school and have played music ever since. It has affected so many areas of my life and made such a significant difference to me. Looking back, I think music actually found me. I went searching, hearing the call of the band and sensing something of awe and wonder, but I was found by something much bigger and drawn into a life-changing experience.
At a very different time in my life, towards the end of high school, I was invited to attend a youth group camp by some friends. I wasn’t sure but there was something in me that felt drawn and so I accepted their invitation. I can’t fully describe that experience, but it was, once again, an experience of deep awe and wonder. It was a deeply spiritual experience where I was drawn into a group of people who accepted me, included me and opened me to the presence of God. Put like that it sounds much less than what I felt and knew that weekend. It was a deeply spiritual experience and I recognised that this God-presence was very real and far more than I ever thought about or expected. It was a case of being discovered, found, drawn into something richer and deeper and of having my spirit enlivened. It was a very significant part of my spiritual journey that challenges, confronts, inspires and draws me evermore deeply into life.
I thought of these experiences, along with many more, when I read a couple of the passages for this Sunday (Isaiah 6:1-8 and John 3:1-17). The first is about Isaiah, a prophet sent to bring a hard and confronting word to the Jewish people. This passage is about his call, an experience profoundly spiritual, a mystical experience. He encounters the living God in a profound way and is drawn more deeply into a journey that he never expected – and it will be very difficult but comes with God’s presence to sustain and enliven him. Through this experience Isaiah feels so alive, so free, so inspired and loved that he leaps to the challenge to speak for God into the lives of people.
The second story (John 3:1-17) involves an encounter between Jesus and a religious leader, Nicodemus. He comes in the dark, symbolic of his life, to the Light because of the yearning of his heart. For Nicodemus his crisis isn’t so much a critical point that is thrust upon him but a growing sense of purposelessness, despite him being a religious/spiritual leader of the people. Despair or confusion gnaws at his soul until he can bear it no longer; distraction and busy-ness no longer pacifies his being and his yearning leads him to the one who can enlighten his way. Nicodemus is mystified by the words of Jesus who points him to a new beginning, a new life born of God’s Spirit that reveals a new path and expectant new world view. Nicodemus cannot go back to what was – all is different! He gets much more than he ever expected. Jesus will not let him go nor let him settle for less that that which is real and true. He reveals God in ordinary, earthy things and claims God’s deep love for the world in all its beauty, wonder, fear, anxiety, pain and horror.
I am reminded of U2’s song ‘Even Better Than The Real Thing’. It confronts and questions a society where we settle for the superficial and secondary rather than that which is real. It plays on the old jingle for Coca Cola – It’s the real thing! If Coke is the real thing, what does that actually mean? If a cola drink claims to be reality, where does that leave everything else? U2 ask us what is real and true and worth holding onto. In a world of smoke and mirrors, distractions, imitations and the confounding call to embrace material excess and virtual reality, we are challenged to look into something real, enduring and meaningful. It is this that Nicodemus discovers and once he sets his feet on the path he is caught up in a journey that stirs his soul, stokes his spirit, feeds his mind and energises his body – it is a whole of person experience and he is alive. Nicodemus, in his initial confusion had to discover that a reorientation of his mind and view of the world was necessary and when he opened himself to Divine Love revealed in Jesus he discovered the essential reality he had been truly seeking but had never really understood. Nicodemus
I wonder what you are seeking? What is it you really want or need in your spirit? What journey will you take into a deeper, richer sense of being?