Mr Beeby taught me clarinet at age 11 or 12. He was a bit of a tyrant. He would scold you for getting scales wrong. He would snatch the clarinet off you and play it and say, it goes like this! He scared me. I had another teacher years later, I cannot believe that I cannot remember his name as I liked him so much, but let's call him Mr Smith. He might take the clarinet off you too, but gently, and he would play it and show you how to make the sound and tone. He really loved the tone and the voice of the clarinet, and got me to enjoy it again.
Today I am talking about teachers and tuning. Some teachers teach well and in a nurturing manner, some, not so much. When you learn an instrument you are meant to learn basics first, and gradually become proficient, until you get really good.
So we start with tuning the instrument, go on to learning scales. We play the music with technical accuracy, then with feeling, then in harmony.
The purpose of all this is that your individual voice disappears into the harmony of the ensemble. At one and the same time you achieve the height of your individual skill in musical expression - and lose yourself in the music of the group. You are found and lost simultaneously; the finding is a part of the losing and vice versa.
This is a lot like the Christian community.
Losing yourself is hard to do, and the small disciplines of lent of giving something up during this season are like putting training wheels on your spiritual life, or like learning the scales on you instrument, or like tuning your guitar. You don't appear in the ensemble fully ready to play your part as a master the day after you pick up your instrument. That takes years of tiny improvements day by day. But we give up chocolate, and for a moment contemplate how that feels. Or we give up alcohol and explore our relationship with it, or we take on an extra charitable commitment and ask ourselves how we fit in the world of need, or we read a spiritual book and allow its ideas to enter our inner world of conversation. Gently, over many years, we get to know ourselves better as spiritual beings. But not just ourselves. No, we get to know God also.
Nicodemus was open to the process of being tuned. He was a man of experience and accomplishment, but he was prepared to learn. Jesus used a humbling image for such a man, that he should be born again, becoming like an infant, immature and incapable - but Nicodemus, wary as he was, began to tune into Jesus message. Later on he would be a fully fledged follower. He had to lay aside many of his deeply held religious concepts and enter into contemplation as a wide eyed child again in order to be in tune. We all need refining - some for different reasons than Nicodemus, some for surprisingly similar ones. What one thing did jesus want to teach Nicodemus?
Many of us enter the spiritual journey of our adult lives with a confusing and often contradictory set of images about the divine. God can be a strange mix of the boogeyman, Santa Claus, our own father or mother and a benevolent uncle. We have to unpick these images as we grow, to understand that they are all projections rather than representations of the divine. Sometimes the image of god we carry inside us is harsh or critical. That is quite common, and why on earth would you give yourself to such an entity? Why would you trust the most tender part of your soul to a tyrant? Sometimes God is a bit like Mr Beeby.
So when we are tuning our souls in lent, and throughout our spiritual lives, it is not just our souls, but our concept of the divine itself that is being adjusted.
If you leapt into the arms of the divine. Would you fall? Answering that question is the spiritual task of a life time. But my belief is that God is more like Mr Smith an Mr Beeby. He loves us, he loves life, he wants to gently help us to live it to the full, and that was what Jesus was teaching Nicodemus. God loved the world so he sent his son, not to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved!
So this lent, quiet the inner voice of protest and trust in some small way that you are truly loved by god, and are neither being judged nor criticised, and make a tiny adjustment. It is just for 40 days. It won't hurt. Maybe it will be the foundation of deeper and more lasting changes later on. Maybe it will be the start of your journey to accept the God who loves you, and accept the you he loves.
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