I was the lone guitarist for the Masses on the retreat weekend, a fact which stressed me out. I don't mind playing guitar in public; I don't mind singing in front of a crowd. But I have A Thing about playing guitar for Mass. This was my third retreat team for our parish, but it was the first time I've been the only guitarist at Mass. During the Friday morning Mass my hands were sweating, my heart was racing, my legs were shaking. It all eased up at the moment that I received communion (which was cool to see), but I thought to myself, "Oh, man, I have to do this again tomorrow."
That night I was going through the music, trying to make sure I had my ducks in a row for Saturday morning. It hit me that freaking out to that degree is a perverse manifestation of pride: it's as if I am afraid I could break the Mass with a missed cue or a wrong chord. As if Our Lord might be thinking to himself, "Well, I was going to be miraculously present under the form of bread and wine, but that Jamie Gladly is such a wretched guitarist that-- no. Just no."
It doesn't work like that.
And so I thought to myself, I am just going to try to stay out of my own way. I am going to be a good enough guitarist. I am a reasonably competent amateur musician, and reasonably competent is the only standard I need to meet here. Getting panicked about possible missteps is self-defeating. It's like skiing -- if you're all tensed up while you ski, it's harder to recover your balance when you wobble and it hurts more when you fall.
Things went fine on Saturday morning. It was much less stressful than Friday had been.
Shortly after Mass our pastor gave a talk in which he shared this piece of music:
He was talking about its beauty but I was listening to it with a musician's ears, thinking about its difficulties. I was thinking about all the takes that didn't make it onto his CD, all the times the director cut them off to say, "No, you're singing a minor third but it's actually supposed to be a second." A focus on good enough only gets you so far; it can't take you all the way to transcendent.
I imagined myself in a bumper car, chugging through the Christian life, yawing from exacting standards to good-enough-ness and back again. This theme kept popping up all through the weekend. Actually, this theme has kept popping up for the past 30 years of my life. More thoughts tomorrow...