A Liturgy From Cello Lessons
By CARLO SOSA-ORTIZ
In James K.A. Smith’s book, You Are What You Love, he tells us that humans are created by God to be lovers, not thinkers. All our hearts desire after something, whether we know it or not. Just as liturgies in our worship services – prayers, hymns, and sermons – can help us love God more fully, there are liturgies in this world that pull us away from God.
The questions Smith raises are: What are the liturgies in your life that turn your heart towards God? What about the “liturgies” outside of the church? How can sports, music, or dance be used to teach us about spiritual growth and discipline?
Music has been a liturgy that has helped my spiritual growth over the years. I began playing the piano when I was five years old, the trumpet at 11, and I just recently started taking cello lessons at 23.
Anyone who has taken the time to learn an instrument knows that the joy and excitement can fade fairly quickly once you sit down at the piano and realize that you aren’t quite the virtuoso like Chopin. Once that excitement is gone, the drive to practice goes quickly.
We’ve all had this experience before even if we aren’t musicians.
Praying is like music. It is frustrating and excruciating work. We could go months and months doing the same and monotonous exercises, thinking that there has been no improvement in our connection with God.
It might be helpful to be with someone who is a good spiritual teacher to help us through these difficult moments, like my piano or cello teachers, who could notice the slightest improvements in my playing. They remind me that learning the fundamentals is challenging for everyone, not just the student.
There were some days where I thought my practicing the cello made little to no difference; I could not hear the developments even though I practiced in front of the mirror every day for 30 minutes.
I would embarrassingly go to my teacher that next week, try to explain to him how I gave it my best, but that I was just not seeing any progress at all. But before I could come up with an excuse, my teacher would say: “Your bow crossings are much better than last week!” or “Your left hand is anchored correctly. Good job!”
I hadn’t noticed these slightest changes, but my teacher did. He was so encouraging that I wanted to continue to be better, and I believed that I was improving.
We all need to be reminded of the pains of spiritual growth. Some of the best teachers and pastors I have had are those who haven’t lost touch with their own feelings of inadequacy. They know what it is like to be human – frustrated, tired, practice worn, and wondering if what they do makes any difference to God.
The only difference between these spiritual greats and those who feel far from God is diligence. It doesn’t have quite the same ring as “Try this weight loss pill and lose weight in 30 days” or “Here’s the secret to learning the piano fast.” But that’s the unvarnished truth.
That’s why Paul compares discipleship to Christ as a solider, farmer, and athlete. It’s why Jesus tells us that narrow is the gate and small the path, because only a few choose to work and find the road. Spiritual formation is a decathlon, a Bach cello suite, an attentive parent with a rambunctious child, a devout monk in the wilderness, a child on a bike without their training wheels. All are attainable; we just have to work.
Carlo Sosa-Ortiz is a seminary student at Logsdon Seminary and is currently working on his M.Div. He works as a graduate assistant at the seminary and as an intern at First Central Presbyterian Church