This last Friday, a had a lot of friends over to my apartment. My birthday was back in June, and this weekend people had some time, and so my friends informed me that they would be descending upon my apartment en mass. The problem with getting together with my missionary friends is always that all of us teach English until late in the evening. I get home around 10pm on Fridays. But, undeterred by such obstacles, they kept arriving in waves until we had six of us in my apartment, the last one arriving after 11:00 sometime. And then we had a wonderful time playing Apples to Apples and finally went to bed with the sun around 4:30 in the morning.
It was a really lovely time. We don't get together very often at all just to hang out.
My friends also went against my request that they not get me anything...I tried to tell them all I wanted was for them to come over and play board games, but Jenae arrived with a guitar case on her back, and after I got over my initial incredibly gullible and naive thoughts of, "Woah...did Jenae start playing guitar?!" and realized there was a ribbon on the back of it, I decided I was really glad they had gone against my request. They had all gone together on one really awesome gift.
My old guitar case is the one that came with my guitar...I recently had to sew about a foot and a half long tear in the side of the case that was just from me walking around with it, and the pocket in front has had a tear that has made it unable to hold anything since about my second week with the case. My old case is also no good for carrying a guitar while riding a bicycle, which is a necessary skill for my existence. Since it wasn't a backpack case, I would swing the shoulder strap over one shoulder and slip my other arm through one of the handles and bumble along that way, usually knocking my guitar into various posts and things that I am much more skilled at navigating around when I don't have a guitar swinging off my back.
So, Jenae arrived with a brand new backpack guitar case with all sorts of interesting pockets. It has little pockets in the backpack straps, one of which even has a little hole so you can put your ipod inside and then pull the ear buds out and listen as you walk. In fact, upon further inspection the following day, I am pretty sure that I can put everything that really matters to me inside the case. Which is to say, there is room for my song book, a notebook, my Bible and maybe one more book, space for guitar picks and my capo, and the nice little ipod slot. There is a strap at the top that one friend suggested might be for an extra bag, and if I could find some way to attach an extra pair of clothes, brush, hairbrush, soap and little bottles of shampoo and laundry detergent, I think, as I told my friends, that I could go completely gypsy. Then they were a little worried about having given me the guitar case. But I am overjoyed with it! It was so easy to ride my bicycle to church on Sunday, and I didn't clunk my guitar into anything.
People left a couple at a time in the morning until there were three of us left, and then the guitar came out. I had promised some of them I would play a song for them that I had written. I wrote the song quite a while ago...or, at least several months ago, but I've been really shy about sharing it. Then, a couple Sundays ago, I was playing guitar while other people were milling around and talking after church, and I played my song...it's no problem to play it if no one knows it's mine. ;-) But a 12 year old ran and found someone to translate for her to let me know that she thought I should send in a demo tape because a music company would surely accept it. Now, I am very aware that what she said is not true in the slightest...but I figure that if a 12 year old thinks my song could be on the radio, it is maybe safe to share it and put my name on it.
The danger isn't even that people won't like it...though that would be sad too. But I've realized when people create something, it's not just like putting together a model airplane or making a stack of blocks (no offense to anyone who does those things in a truly artistic way), but it's like taking a small sampling of their own soul and putting it down on paper. You choose words that mean something real to you, and make a melody that flows out of somewhere so deep inside you you don't know how you even got to it, and whether it's profound or beautiful or deep or sad or joyful or simple, it's a sliver of you at the deepest level. It's not about skill, it's about beauty. As such, the greatest danger is that people will hear and be indifferent.
Some of the most beautiful music I have ever known was from a small congregation in Honduras. It was my first time in a foreign country, and I will never forget the shock of this six person church that sang with the strength of six hundred. Every note was wrong, but sung with the confidence of Pavarotti. And when I thought the song was finished (they had sung all the verses) they often continued on, either repeating a verse or adding a new verse they all knew that wasn't in the hymnal. That to me is beauty.
I wasn't the only one sharing music on Saturday, but my friend Kat had also written a song. After she heard mine, she tried to get out of playing hers. But we dragged her over to Hongo to use the piano and she shared her songs with us. After she was done playing, I was really glad I'd gotten to play first, because I thought hers were a whole lot better than mine! But the comparison is just anxiety. What is really amazing about the whole thing is hearing the music someone else has written and getting to see a little bit more of that deepest part of them which has dared to put itself on paper.
Amber was the third friend still with me in the afternoon, and she is also an artist. In addition to her painting, Amber's had the idea for a long time of putting together a liturgy written entirely by our group of missionaries. This might sound like a nice, normal idea after you've read this entry and assumed that we have original music coming out our ears or something, but when she came up with the idea, to my knowledge, only one member of the community had written music before and she wasn't even living in Tokyo. I didn't start writing music because of Amber's idea...I started because of the new, strange urge to do so. But it all kind of fits in with this vision that Amber has.
I shared my music in two ways on Saturday, and the second was almost scarier than the first. I had another song that was a simple two line melody. No words. But somehow about the deepest love song to God that was inside of me. I've been searching for words for it for more than a month now with no success. I would find some Bible verse that fit the meaning, but not the rhythm. And so, with Amber thrilled about the liturgy coming together, I offered up the two lines and asked her if she had an idea for words.
We finally ended up with some that were perfect: "Falling at Your feet I worship You, I'm giving everything to You." And that is it...the whole song. But it seemed fitting...I couldn't finish it alone.
I think about the verse, "When you come together, everyone has a hymn, or a word of instruction, a revelation, a tongue or an interpretation. All of these must be done for the strengthening of the church."
Worship is a blend of beauty...it's an offering of the beauty that we have. In community, that means we give over ownership of the beauty that we see. And our beauty becomes blended with the beauty of another person.