From the

Official News Magazine of the Diocese of Spokane

Deacon Eric Meisfjord, Editor
P.O. Box 48, Spokane WA 99210
(509) 358-7340; FAX: (509) 358-7302

Spirituality: Space between the notes

by Father Michael Savelesky, for the Inland Register

(From the Dec. 6, 2001 edition of the Inland Register)

This past week a friend of mine announced that he had “made the great change.” At first I thought that he had given up smoking or had found different, more satisfying employment. A bit puzzled, I inquired about the nature of his great moment of conversion.

“I changed all the CDs in my player to Christmas music!” he gleefully chirped. “Both in my car and on the home stereo. I just love Christmas music — but nothing but the traditional stuff for me — none of that modern racket!”

My happy friend almost seemed to dance at the opportunity to alter the musical atmosphere that nourishes his daily life. Out of curiosity I pursued the conversation a bit further. I asked what there was about Christmas music that he found so inviting. Playing devil’s advocate, I feigned the objection that Christmas was many days off and that he should be playing Advent music. Knowing my friend to be a good, practicing Catholic, I expected a response like, “its focus on Jesus’ birth” but it didn’t come.

Instead, my friend informed me that he liked what he called “the space between the notes” in the traditional Christmas pieces he was now playing at nearly every waking moment of his day.

Now, that was a most interesting response. More curiosity. Explain, please.

My friend explained that traditional Christmas music tends to be slower, more meditative. It has the effect of helping him center on the rhythms of his heart, on what’s important to him in life. Suspecting that I may think he had sold his soul to the secularization of the season, he quickly assured me that his listening habits helped him focus on Christ. “I think that without all that space between the notes I’d miss the real point of Christ’s birth,” he pleaded.

I went home and changed the CDs in my stereo system, too. (I even found a few Advent pieces.) A convert won.

My friend is preparing well for the Feast of the Incarnate Word of God. He is making room for Jesus to be a reality, and not just a happy memory. Advent is a time for this kind of conversion — for making more space between the notes of our lives in order to be overwhelmed once again by God’s astonishing gift of unconditional love. Such an effort is a serious expression of faith.

Our brief conversation heightened my awareness of those many elements in our busy lives that turn its cadence into a mishmash of activities. If translated to a musical score, the page would be packed more tightly than our home calendars and personal date books.

Perhaps the name of such a piece could be Solid Black. It would be impossible to distinguish between full notes, half notes, sharps, flats and rests — all those peculiarities that give form and luster to a musical piece. Engulfed in a culture which is driven by the pressure to accomplish and succeed, which of us does not play Solid Black day in and day out? Work to be done — games to attend — traveling — shopping — school — fixing — car pooling — cooking — cleaning — sports — church — honey-do lists — study — exercise — meetings — meetings — homework — dentist appointments — doctor appointments — more meetings —

The notes of Solid Black overlap one another and have the effect of infecting our inner spirit with a sense of harriedness that inhibits concentration and reflection. The more it is played and the louder it is blasted, the less happy and focused we are. In fact, its constant play pushes us to a residual anger and frustration with life that can lie hidden just beneath the surface of our consciousness. Given the right opportunity, it plays itself out in impatience, cynicism and those cosmic sighs that testify to a life which is empty of direction and purpose.

A liturgical purist may argue that it’s too early to put on the Christmas music. But try finding some good Advent pieces whose tempo serve the same purpose. My friend definitely is on the right path. When we take the time to spread out the notes of our lives, we may well begin to realize that the most important part of our lives is not the notes themselves, all the things we do or strive to accomplish to give our lives direction and meaning.

Indeed, it’s the silence between the notes that counts the most. That’s where God speaks most assuredly to our hearts and bids us rest in the Good News of his saving love for us.

(Father Savelesky is pastor of Assumption Parish, Spokane. His latest book, Catholics Believe, has been released by Harcourt Religion Publishers.)

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