Note: This post was first published on December 17, 2005, back when our church still had an orchestra. Because of conversations and thoughts I’ve had of late, I thought it was time to post it again. I have revised it a little, but only a little.
Note 2: Not long after I posted this, my parents bought me a new violin. They understood that a new violin was not–is not–the point of this post, but they did it anyway. The photos here are pictures of the instrument I have now. It is not an antique, but it is lovely.
It is my pleasure, in the back of the second violin section in our church orchestra, to share a music stand with Emily. Emily is my dear friend, and it was she who encouraged me, sometime during the summer of 2004, to get my violin out again and join the orchestra. And although I play badly (Badly), I will always think of that encouragement as one of her many Great Gifts to me, because I enjoy playing the violin So Much.
My parents bought my violin for me when I started taking lessons at age ten. It was a school instrument, used, not of anything like High Quality. But it served. It served for seven years, waited seventeen, and is serving again. It is a brightly lacquered thing with an orange hue and a pinched tone. Not a rich sound, not a beautiful instrument. But I am used to it, and it Works.
Emily, on the other hand, has a beautiful violin. Hers is an antique. Hers is not shiny, and the wood is grained in rich browns and yellows. And its sound? Well.
One afternoon during rehearsal, Emily had the bright idea that we switch instruments. Just for a little while, she said. Just to try it.
I did not want to. No. I knew what would happen.
But she was grinning like she does. She thought it would be such fun. Here, she said, holding out her precious and antique violin to me. Here.
We couldn’t have continued the swap for more than a minute, maybe two. I didn’t play her violin for long. But oh, I enjoyed it. A violin like hers just feels different in the hand: softer somehow, as if wants to be played, as if it intends to conform itself to the player and help one make magnificent music.
And her violin vibrated differently. The sound wasn’t just something the violin made; the sound was something the violin embodied. It bore the sound with its whole, soft self. It was wonderful. Those few minutes were proof of something I already knew: her violin is Much Better than mine.
I wish I had a violin like that.
* * *
The house I live in is not large, but it is, in many ways, charming. It is far from perfect, but I love it. It is all I want in a house, and I am vastly contented in it and deeply grateful. When we first bought it, I was ecstatic.
One afternoon I enjoyed the visit of Kathy Russell, wife of one of our pastors. She is, by gift and hobby, an interior designer, and she was delighted to let me show her our house. I showed her the closet space, I showed her the bedrooms, I showed her the bathrooms, we discussed paint chips. And I said to her– as I’ll say to most anyone– “Isn’t God good to give this to me?”
She and her husband and their five children were living in a tiny house at the time with, she told me, no storage space. But she looked at my house and admired it and was quite simply happy for me. Her answer to my delight, to my overjoyed question of God’s goodness, was simple and direct: “Yes,” she said. “And isn’t He good not to give it to me?”
* * *
I think sometimes we get it all wrong. I think sometimes we look at what we have, and at what others have, and we look too hard at the Thing Itself. We compare our homes, our violins, our bodies, our hair, our talents, our virtues, and we are quite plainly Dissatisfied.
And that is because we are looking at the wrong thing. We are looking at the Thing We Have compared to the Thing That Belongs to Someone Else.
We are not looking, as we should be, at the Hand that holds Our Thing out to us, the Hand that gives it, in absolute kindness and perfect wisdom, and declares it to be ours.
We are not looking past the Thing to the Hand itself, nor are we looking carefully into the hand– we are not seeing the Scar.
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