Wednesday, March 26, 2014

The Cross and the Metronome

One of my tutoring students wanted to learn how to play piano.  He was musically gifted, and this was a sincere desire of his.

Since my tutoring students are home schooled, I can, to a large extent, set the curriculum to match the interests of the student.  So I bought and paid for a "do it yourself" piano class from the University of Nebraska Online High School.  It came with a book and a metronome.

My student lasted a week in this do-it-yourself class and then quit.  What do you think the problem was?

The problem was the metronome.  

One of the reasons I was tutoring this kid was he refused to go to his physical school on time, if at all, and his wealthy parents were too distracted with becoming wealthier to make him get out of bed and get there.  It was, therefore, no surprise to me that he was difficult to motivate at home, too.

So I was looking for any hook - any interest that would spur him to get out of bed on time and give himself to his studies with something resembling gusto.  Or even mild interest.

But this never really happened.  As Erich Fromm says of today's young people ...

Many of the younger generation tend to have no character at all. ... What I mean is that they live, emotionally and intellectually speaking, from hand to mouth. They satisfy every need immediately, have little patience to learn, cannot easily endure frustration, and have no center within themselves, no sense of identity. 

The metronome, you see, was forcing my student to play in time.  It was discipline - almost discipline personified.  He just wanted to sit down and play.  He had no patience for the hard work and self-sacrifice learning an instrument takes.  Anyone who's ever struggled to learn an instrument, or a language, or any skill at all, knows this feeling quite well.  You want so badly to play, to have the skill to enjoy what you're doing and to let it fly - but you can't do that without a lot of hard work - sometimes years of hard work.  One of the most true statements of the secular world is no pain, no gain.

And what is this pain, what is the pain of discipline, but a form of suffering?

The Book of Wisdom tells us ...

The beginning of wisdom is the most sincere desire for instruction, and concern for instruction is love of her, and love of her is the keeping of her laws, and giving heed to her laws is assurance of immortality, and immortality brings one near to God; so the desire for wisdom leads to a kingdom.  (Wis. 6:17-20)

Yes, desire leads to a Kingdom.  Or, as Jesus said, "Seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you." (Mat. 7:7).  But the path of desire leads through discipline.  In other words, the path to the Kingdom is the Way of the Cross.

The author of the inspired Book of Wisdom, who tells us he is the wise King Solomon, lays it out for us in the passage I quoted above.

1. To attain Wisdom (which in Jewish wisdom literature and in Christian tradition is really a form of union with God) - to attain Wisdom, you must first sincerely desire "instruction" - to be taught.  The path to Lady Wisdom begins not only with the desire for her, but with a humble attitude.  You can't be taught if you're a know-it-all; you must submit to something greater than yourself in order to learn.  One must desire not only the Lady, but also the humble way that you must tread to get to this Lady. One must not only have a desire to play the piano, but a willingness to submit to the demands of the metronome in doing so - even through the times when you feel like picking the damn thing up and throwing it against the wall. (Click-click-click-smash!)
2. "Concern for instruction is love of her" - which is to say that conscientiousness in submitting to the discipline of instruction is an expression of love.  Indeed, it is an expression of something I've been talking a lot about lately - mature love.   One of the things spoiled teens (and adults) have to learn is how love comes with a price: no pain, no gain.  You can't skip school and sleep til noon and expect Wisdom to come to you.  We are loving a Lady, the object of our quest, and to find her requires suffering and submission to suffering.  It requires discipline and adventure.  Our mother may give us the teat as we lay there passively; she might even pick us up and burp us.  But Lady Wisdom requires the end of an infantile attitude on our part.  She demands a quest, a search, an ordeal.  She requires love expressed as endurance.  And even something as simple as "concern for instruction" is love of her.
3. "Love is the keeping of her laws."  We moderns do not want to hear this!  But see Ps. 119.
4. Now it gets interesting.  "Giving heed to her laws is assurance of immortality".  And this from the Old Testament!  The gift of Lady Wisdom (who personifies union with God) is eternal life!
 5. "and immortality brings one near to God; so the desire for wisdom leads to a kingdom."

Seek and ye shall find, in other words, but God never promises us a rose garden.  On the contrary ...

All who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted. (2 Tim. 3:12)

And believe it or not this post is in many ways about the errors of Christopher West and the spiritualization of lust.  West is right when he says that Desire is good and should not be quenched automatically, for Desire leads to God.

But Eros leads to God through the discipline and suffering of Marriage, family life, dirty diapers and sleepless nights with a sick child.  The true fulfillment of our sexual desire is anything but sexy.

And the metronome - like the Cross - is anything but fun.

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