The Words and the Music

The ending of this story has been haunting me for the past two weeks:

Mark Twain’s wife, a prim and proper lady, tried to shock him one time out of his use of vulgar language. She greeted him at the door, cursed him up one side and down the other with all of the words she had heard him use, plus a couple more. Twain stood there quietly, listening, taking it all in until she had finished. When she was finished, he calmly replied, “My dear, you have the words, but not the music.”

I have been wondering lately if I have just been parroting the words, or do I have a real feel for the music. It is easy to hear the words with my ears, and read the words with my eyes, but God’s music can only truly be heard with an open heart. Am I just fooling myself? Have any of the notes from His Symphony been getting through the walls I have built around my heart? Have I reflected any of His music to others around me? I fear that I am tone-deaf.

I read something in a book the other day that stopped me cold in my tracks. I tried to read past it but could not concentrate. I put the book down and prayed for the grace of clarity. The chapter in this particular book was on the theology of Hell, and how certain individuals choose to turn away from God, from others, from Love. Despite all of the grace that falls down on the world like rain, they choose the path inward to themselves only. In regards to the “pain of loss” felt by those in Hell:

The obstinate soul is still, by its very nature, inclined to love God more than itself, just as the hand loves the body more than itself, and hence exposes itself naturally to preserve the body. This natural inclination has indeed been weakened by sin, but continues to exist in the condemned soul [after death]. Father Monsabré says: “The condemned soul loves God, has hunger for God. It loves Him in order to satisfy itself.”

Now I know that this is referring to a soul that has been judged and condemned, and that it describes a source for the pain that a condemned soul will experience in their absence from God. But that last line scared me to the core. How sincere am I about my love for God and for others? It seems that I put myself first in line way too often. I know how much of a selfish jerk I am on the inside despite what others see on the outside.

St. John of the Cross said,

In the evening of our life, we shall be judged by love, namely, by the sincerity of our love for God, for our neighbor, for our soul.

It all comes down to the essence of God—love. Does love flow through my heart outward, back to God and to others despite how many obstacle I manage to place in its way, or do I hoard it for myself?

I know, at least I think I do, the answer to this question, and that will have to suffice. I just had some doubts, not in God, but in myself. I am not going to worry about it any more because I am simply going to trust in the Lord.

The title of a popular song from a few years ago was “A Semi-Charmed Kind of Life”. The lyrics were okay, but the melody was catchy and I really liked the title. But from a Christian point of view, the title should be, “A Grace-Filled Kind of Life”. By the grace of God, even before I knew faith, He was working through me. Two simple things happened this past week to remind me of this fact. God also allowed me to see that I do not interfere with His flow of love as much as I think I do.

A friend of my teaches during the summer at a local community college. He visits their pool regularly. As providence would have it, he was talking with one of the lifeguards who just happens to have been one of my students from my public school days. Great student. Great person. One of those kind of girls you hope your own sons will find someday as a mate. She went on to tell my friend how pivotal I had been in her education in regards to mathematics, and ultimately in her college major in science. She will be a senior in college this year. My friend even called her on the phone at the pool that afternoon while he was telling me this story. He gave me the gift of reconnecting with her.

A day or so later, I ran across another former student. This one happens to have a good job delivering bottled water. (Bottled water? How posh! Not really, it is only about $6, after deposit return, for a five-gallon bottle delivered to the house every two weeks. Although our well water is pretty good, it has been a blessing.) This former student had graduated at least five years earlier than the other one and was the exact opposite of her. When he was in high school, let’s just say that school was not his thing, especially math. He was very intelligent, but he did not want to be there, and he made sure every now and then to do something to remind me of that fact. By the grace of God, I did not dehumanize this soul while he was in my classroom. When he saw me and called out my name, he had a big grin on his face and a genuine sparkle in his eye that he was glad to see me. He even seemed proud of the fact that he gets to deliver water for me. Another gift of reconnection.

It took me a couple days to see God’s grace working in, through, and around my life. God did answer my prayer for clarity, plus some. Thanks be to God. There were many other things that have occurred in the last couple days too, more on a spiritual level where words are not adequate to describe.

Last night, I was reading the very end of the section on Hell in that same particular book. The author categorizes three types of fear. It occurred to me, these three types of fear are sort of litmus test for my sincerity for love of God and love for others.

The first type of fear is mundane fear. This is fear of things in the world, that is, fear of what others will think, fear of being persecuted, fear of failure, etc. This type of fear is something we all have to battle everyday of our lives. (We have become experts at hiding this fear.) This type of fear also draws you away from God and from others because you become more concern about yourself.

The second type is servile fear. This fear is not a fear of persecution by the world, but the fear of a servant, fear of punishment from God. This fear, at the beginning, is good because it may help draw someone closer to God. But, this type of fear can become bad if someone would still want to sin if only the threat of punishment was removed. Servile fear is not a virtue. It is not a gift from the Holy Spirit.

The third type of fear, filial fear, is a virtue and a gift from the Holy Spirit. Filial fear grows as servile fear decreases. Filial fear grows simultaneously as charity, love of God, increases. This type of fear is the fear of a child, not of a servant who fears punishment, but a fear of sin that separates us from God. This fear of being separated from God is not only based on the idea of being cut off from all the Goodness that is God, but also, maybe more importantly, the idea of not wanting to disappoint God. (It goes without saying, that we will disappoint God. The wonderful thing is that God has already forgiven us, except that we must turn back to Him, repent as they say, and ask for His forgiveness when we make a mistake.)

I guess I am not going to worry so much about me hearing the music. It is more important that I try not to interfere with God’s music flowing through me to others. I think I have heard some of the notes from His Symphony, and what little I have heard sounds so sweet.

As for the words, well, as I recently commented on another weblog, the words are not on some piece of paper. The words are not necessarily the words that get spoken either. The words are the Living Word, the Person of Jesus Christ, and He is where the Music is…

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