“I the LORD test the mind and search the heart.” – Jeremiah 17:10 (NRSV)
Now that autumn has officially arrived here in New England with its shorter days, cooler nights and beautiful foliage that’s just now starting to burst forth, I have to confess that my heart has been feeling just the tiniest bit wistful for times past and another true harbinger of fall . . . Marching Band Season!
It’s true: with a daughter firmly ensconced in the piccolo section, for several years Lisa and I were bona fide “band parents;” every Friday night between late August and mid-November was all about watching the “Marching Tornadoes” go through their paces during the high school’s football game halftime show. And though on any given night we might suffer through intense heat, freezing temperatures or torrential downpours (to say nothing of uncomfortable bleachers crowded in the “non-reserved” section of the stadium), it was almost always an enjoyable experience: we were continually amazed by the incredible mixture of spirit, joy and discipline that the band kids brought to the music and how each one of the bands, whether they came from large, well-funded high school music programs or small schools struggling to simply hold a band together, inevitably had unique personality and sound. And every week we came away newly impressed with how a bunch of individual high schoolers, some of whom only learned how to march a few short weeks before, had somehow been woven into a single, precise unit that had the skill and power to stir the heart with every performance.
I actually have some great personal appreciation for all this. You see, many years ago while I was still in high school, I was once given the task of directing our school’s band at a basketball game. That I was given this honor was a fluke, to be sure. There was a flu bug going around that had taken out the entire music faculty at our school, as well as the first trumpet player who normally did such things; and so for reasons I still can’t understand, I ended up with the job!
So here I was at the beginning of the game, with the varsity basketball team about to come out on to the floor. As they entered, our band was supposed to play “Marching Trumpets Ole,” just as we did at every game. Except that this time, when I raised my baton, counted off the tempo and brought the baton down on the first beat . . . nothing happened! I looked up at the bleachers where the band was sitting, and none of them were even paying attention!
Undaunted, I tried again, getting the band’s attention and calling to them to get ready to perform. And to the band’s credit, they were paying attention – they even raised up their instruments to play – and I counted off again. This time, however, perhaps out of fear or apprehension, or more likely because I wasn’t doing it right, once again on the downbeat nothing happened and there’s still no music. I remember suddenly becoming aware that 500 hometown people were now staring directly at the band – and at me! At this point I heard over the loudspeaker the basketball team being introduced for the third time, and I knew that if the music didn’t play this time I’d never be able to show my face in town again! So I did the only thing I could think of to do: I threw my hands into the air and I screamed at the top of my lungs, “PLAY!” And, yes, we played, and very, very badly. In fact, to be brutally honest, we couldn’t find a tune in a basket – and the less said about the majorette show at halftime, the better!
But we got through it all somehow, and I came away with something of a parable! The fact is, I could have waved my hands in the air all night long (and pretty much did!), but unless the people in the band picked up their instruments to play together as one, there wasn’t going to be any music! It’s actually one of the great lessons we learn in this life: that we can never go it completely alone; that most often it takes us being woven together for great things to happen. This is especially true in faith. We can go through daily lives seeking to rely on solely our own talent and determination, but unless we let ourselves be woven in with God, in the end even our best efforts fall flat.
I’m reminded here of a verse in Jeremiah that tells us that God can “test the mind and search the heart,” and it seems to me that the best thing you and I can ever do is to let God do just that. For the same God who indeed knows our hearts and minds can delve more deeply into the motives and actions of our lives so that we might be given what we truly need to live, to grow and to thrive.
What we need might be forgiveness for the sin and regret of the past; it might be the renewal of life that opens up our hope for the future; it might be an answer to the deep yearning we have for healing and true joy; or it could simply be LOVE, love as its meant to be ever and always, the love which bears, believes, hopes and endures all things. Whatever it is we need, God will provide.
We are never meant to do the marching of life’s journey completely on our own; but instead we are given a divine partner who will play the music of that journey together with us. And so blessed are you who trust in the Lord to play that beautiful music; blessed are you whose trust is the LORD.
c. 2012 Rev. Michael W. Lowry