Catholic Diocese of Spokane, Washington

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

A tuned ear

by Father Michael Savelesky, for the Inland Register

(From the May 3, 2007 edition of the Inland Register)

Father Michael Savelesky Once again, the warm embrace of spring has pulled many a soul out-of-doors for a breath of fresh air. After the bite of winter, it is invigorating to walk among budding trees and sprouting flower gardens. Suffering from a touch of spring fever, I, too, recently took a leisurely walk in the neighborhood park. Nature was cooperative with abundant signs of its marvelous work. The many people who shared the park with me were even more abundant signs of wonder – especially the young.

I still marvel at how the skateboarders I encountered were able to balance board, backpack, the occasional girlfriend – some, even the less-than-popular huge portable radio – as they whisked past. Of equal wonder was the loud volume of words which those radios imposed on the public ear. Nowadays, we are used to seeing silent faces pinned together by subtle ear pieces. Music seems to be becoming a private affair.

To me and (judging from the wag of heads) the adults in the vicinity, the loud “music” was a disturbance. All that seemed to fill the air from the dated electronic boxes was the screaming sound of tortured voices and the senseless pounding of many instruments. The music of these folks evidently had to be felt.

With firm purpose I tried to take note of the music. It was difficult, to say the least. Most of the time I could not hear the words because of the overwhelming background instrumentation. With time, nevertheless, as my effort increased and my ears became adjusted to their foreign world, I could start to make out a few phrases. Once I even understood a complete sentence!

The attitudes and values of a people are captured in their music. The music of any generation has something to say. Discerning its message requires both the effort and the free choice to listen. Usually that requires stepping beyond prejudices with an openness to a world outside one’s comfort zone. Listening to the music does not always require a near-physical adjustment and adaptation, but it still takes effort and free choices. The music of the ’60s, for example, carries its own values and messages about the times. Like the music in the park, it, too, can pass through one ear and out the other, and be shrugged off as irrelevant or even obnoxious.

The same is true of a piece of music run by our hearing recently at Mass. St. Paul’s letter to the Philippians included the words of an ancient Christian hymn. Even without instrumentation, its words are powerful if we take the time to listen:

Your attitude must be Christ’s.
Though he was in the form of God,
he did not deem equality with God
something to be grasped at.
Rather, he emptied himself
and took the form of a slave,
being born in the likeness of us all.

The music addresses itself to us – to any of us who claim the title “Christian.” These words cannot pass through one ear and out the other, or be shrugged off as irrelevant. Our “attitude must be that of Christ’s” – a strong sentence with no room for compromise. The Christian is one who takes on the identity of Jesus. The value and message this stark sentence carries forms the heart and soul of Christian life and spirituality. It calls for more than an intellectual understanding of our religion. It summons more than a mere propriety in our behavior. Rather, it calls forth from us a genuine gift: of ourselves, back to God and to one another. An attitude is not a mind-set; and it is more substantive than behavior.

An attitude is the way in which we engage our very selves in our relationships. Our attitude is that place within us that manifests our freedom. Just as Jesus freely chose to give of himself for our redemption – trusting fully in the power of God – so, too, must the disciple of Jesus. Our attitude must not be one of clinging to the securities of power, position, knowledge in vain efforts to save ourselves. Our free choice – and it is a choice – is to empty ourselves into the hands of God, trusting that, despite the various shapes of death about us, that we, too, in union with Jesus, will be gifted with resurrected life.

There is no background instrumentation in Paul’s quote which keeps these words from our ears. There may be, nevertheless, a great deal of background racket in our lives which keeps them from being heard in our hearts. It takes our free choice – perhaps a change of attitude – to sit with them and listen to the music. The value and message they bring is the promise of life, now and forever.

(Father Savelesky is pastor of Assumption Parish in Spokane.)

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