I remember, some years back, writing about Mahler’s 6th Symphony – The Tragic. I never could understand why it got it’s name; I was enticed by the opening march of the first movement, with it’s heroic and adventurous lustre, and the beautiful little melodies and rhythms that distracted me from the theme. It was my favourite symphony. In 2009 I was blessed with the opportunity to go see it performed by the London Symphony Orchestra at the Sage Music Hall. I was captivated as Valery Gergiev, one of our age’s great conductors, led over a hundred instruments in unison. There, faced with the raw power of it live, I realised that the theme really is tragedy. It ends with three hammer blows, though only two are traditionally played, because almost all conductors avoid the third hammer blow. It is too much, too tragic, too foreboding. I still love Mahler’s 6th, but now I understand it differently; the notes are all the same but my perspective has changed. I allowed the minor lifts to distract me from it’s major themes, and it makes me wonder, how often do we do this in life? Get so swept up in details we miss what’s really going on, miss the bigger themes of life.
I firmly believe that, like the great symphonies, everyone’s life has an over riding theme – sort of an arc towards eternity. One day we meet Jesus face to face (selah) and the theme will become clear, but we shouldn’t wait; He meets us here and now and has given us a book that explains the story, that shows the grand sweep of all history towards the return of the King who changed everything. For those who don’t know Jesus the theme is leading them towards that third hammer blow and the only hope is for the conductor to step in and not only change the note but change the whole symphony. For those who have put their trust in Jesus? We’re the lucky ones because no matter what it feels like in any moment, no matter whether our life is playing out in a major or a minor key, we have an assurance that God who is both conductor and composer is on our side. We don’t end with hammer blows, in fact? We don’t end at all…
But the path of the righteous is like the light of dawn,
which shines brighter and brighter until full day.
– Proverbs 4:18 (ESV)
It’s a beautiful verse, but how hard is it to feel it sometimes? Sometimes when we’re at a point where the music doesn’t seem so jolly we can entirely miss the fact that we’re heading forwards into marvellous light. I know in my life sometimes I know those words and yet struggle to live out of the reality. This is it, I’m set for life. The composer has already written my symphony and the themes are of redemption, reconciliation and rejoicing. Much as I love Mahler, I’m pretty glad that he wasn’t the one writing my life. There is no ambiguity in this scripture. It doesn’t say the path of some of the righteous, it’s for all of us. Life contains its moments, its dramas, its passions and its pains, but it’s moving towards a triumph not a tragedy.
I wish I was better at living at all times like someone who knew the theme of their symphony. I wish that like Paul I had learned to be content in whatever is going on for bad or for good. I haven’t, yet. I still sometimes find myself distracted by the minor falls and forget the major themes; perhaps some of you can relate? I’ve heard Mahler’s 6th a whole heap of times but parts of it still retain their ability to surprise me and to sweep me away. If I can’t even accurately predict the next note in something unchanging, then I certainly can’t predict the next moment; what then do we have left? Trust. If our perspective only takes in the notes that we’re hearing at the moment then there is no way we’ll ever see clearly, but if we trust the conductor and see that He’s leading us somewhere then our perspectives will be different.
As I sat watching Gergiev that November night he knew completely all that was going on. He knew every sound, rhythm, beat and note that was to come and when it needed to be played. He would at times look as though he was gently beckoning the instruments to life and others as though he was about to lose himself in the passion of what he was doing but whatever his expression he always had control. This week I want to encourage you to think about the theme of it all, and to know that the one conducting has perfect control. I pray that as I grow, I may get increasingly able to simply rest in His control and follow His commands. If you ever worry or stress, I pray the same for you too.