The Piano

Dear Friends:

This is the fourth message in a series on the artifacts that symbolize the spiritual importance of events, gifts and people of importance in our lives.

ar-ti-fact n. An object produced or shaped by human workmanship; especially, a simple tool, weapon or ornament of archeological or historical interest.

One of the first things that my mom and dad purchased after they were married was a used upright piano. It is a Hamilton, a product of the Baldwin Piano Company. The cabinet is made of beautiful, tight-grained, walnut. The keyboard has firm, responsive action, and yields a rich, lovely tone.

The piano dominated the living room of the family through the growing up years of all four of us children. Each of us, in turn, bit down on the ledge beneath the keys while we were teething leaving bite marks in the wood. This was so endearing to my mother that she insisted they be left there when the piano was refinished.

When Patricia and I started our own home, my parents gave the piano to us. It now graces our living room where our son Andrew practiced on it the eleven years that he took lessons.

Playing the piano in the dark late at night is on my short list of favorite things to do. I can’t see the keys, but I can feel them and hear them and there is only the music. The darkness allows me to express to God the deepest thoughts of my heart through the notes and chords.

A few years ago, a Pentecostal pastor took an interest in me and tried hard without success to get me to speak in tongues. I was not opposed on principle to the experience, I’m open to anything that God wants to do in my life, but it doesn’t really matter to me whether I speak in tongues or not. The man invited me to the place he was staying, laid his hands on my head and prayed and prayed. Finally, he gave up and told a colleague in amazement, “I have never seen anyone before who exhibits so much of the fruit of the Spirit who doesn’t have the Holy Spirit.”

This made me chuckle because you’d think the fruit of the Spirit has to come from the Spirit (Rom. 8:9-17; Gal. 5:16, 22-25). But the man continued to pray for me that I would receive the Holy Spirit.

I told Patricia about the encounter and she said, “But you do speak in tongues.”

“What do you mean?”

“That’s what playing the piano is for you.”

It’s true that I feel close to God when I’m playing in the darkness and the joy of God’s presence wells up from my heart and rolls out in waves through my fingers. It is a resonance of the steadfast love that holds me in the embrace of my Abba. It is an echo of the thought of David: “By day the Lord commands his steadfast love, and at night his song is with me, a prayer to the God of my life” (Psalm 42:8, Message).

This experience is not confined to the night hours. There are times especially on the weekends when I will sit and play for an hour or so with Patricia sitting on the couch reading and singing softly. The Spirit of the Living God stirs my soul in those moments with gratitude and it is not unusual for me to finish unable to speak because of my tears of thankfulness at the faithfulness of Jesus Christ. A song I learned in childhood from my parents sums up this experience.

In shady, green pastures,
so rich and so sweet,
God leads His dear children along;
Where the water’s cool flow
bathes the weary one’s feet,
God leads his dear children along.

. . .

Sometimes on the mount
where the sun shines so bright,
God leads His dear children along;
Sometimes in the valley,
in the darkest of night,
God leads his dear children along.

Some through the waters,
some through the flood,
Some through the fire
but all through the blood;
Some through great sorrow,
but God gives a song,
In the night seasons
and all the day long.

–G.A. Young

My family sang our faith. Around the piano in the evenings, on the road, day or night, we praised our God and called upon the memory of his loving compassion that the hymns and choruses evoked for us wherever we were, whatever we were traveling towards or coming from. The songs were recorded in my heart and are often replayed in my thoughts day and night.

It is a rare morning that I do not awake with a song running through my mind. This morning it was a hymn that was brought back to my mind several years ago when I went to speak in Boulder, Colorado. I stayed in the home of the woman who had extended the invitation to speak and her physician husband. His aged mother lived with them, frail and weak, unable to walk. She spent her waking hours on the couch in the family room, dozing and watching Christian TV, brought to her by satellite.

Late on Friday afternoon before we left for the first meeting, I sat down at their grand piano and played. I asked the old woman if there was a favorite hymn she would like to hear. Without hesitation she said, “Oh yes, “All the Way My Savior Leads Me.” I said, “All right,” and began to play. Her sweet, quavery voice followed me with the words of the wonderful, blind songwriter, Fannie J. Crosby–words that clearly had illuminated the woman’s journey through life to these final years, and she knew all of them as one who’d lived them out.

All the way my Savior leads me;
What have I to fear beside?
Can I doubt his tender mercy,
Who through life has been my guide?
Heavenly peace, divinest comfort,
Here by faith in Him to dwell;
For I know what-e’er befall me,
Jesus doeth all things well;
For I know what-e’er befall me,
Jesus doeth all things well.

All the way my Savior leads me;
Cheers each winding path I tread;
Gives me grace for every trial,
Feeds me with the living bread;
Though my weary steps may falter,
And my soul athirst may be,
Gushing from the Rock before me,
Lo, a spring of joy I see;
Gushing from the rock before me,
Lo, a spring of joy I see.

All the way my Savior leads me;
O the fullness of His love;
Perfect rest to me is promised
In my Father’s house above;
When I wake to life immortal,
Wing my flight to realms of day,
This my song through endless ages,
Jesus led me all the way;
This my song through endless ages,
Jesus led me all the way.

It’s my fondest desire that the thoughts this song expresses be the truth of my life in its final moments. For now, I hear this song and other songs of faith in a gracious God as I traverse the exposed reaches of the days and endure the long night passages.

I have read many books and articles laboring over what it means to “rejoice always and pray without ceasing” as Scripture instructs us to do (1 Thess. 5:17). The attitude of praise and prayer that instruction calls for cannot be constructed by formula and effort. The Apostle Peter wrote that rejoicing “with an indescribable and glorious joy” was the natural response to receiving “the salvation of your souls” (1 Pet. 1:8-9). If you want to pray without ceasing ask God to put his song in your heart and listen to it in silence until it becomes part of you. You will know solitude after that, but not loneliness.

There are two people that I’ve known who said that they “hated music,” and couldn’t care less if they never heard it. I think there must be some deep, mad sadness in them. To hate music is to live life without the best lubrication for its frictions. When I lie tossing and doubtful in my bed at 2:00 a.m., hearing the familiar words and music of faithfulness in the memory of my heart is a continuing reminder that the God who loves me steadfastly by day is still with me by night, lifting me over the rocks and shoals of trouble on the flood-tides of his grace. The song rising in my soul is an invitation to tell Christ what is bothering me with no reservation and then to yield to his loving arms like a brokenhearted child confessing to his understanding dad or mom.

Annie LaMott describes this divine power of hymns to move Mattie, the confused and longing heroine of her novel, Blue Shoe. “The choir sang her favorite songs, “Just As I Am” and “Softly and Tenderly.” Mattie heard the desperation and generosity beneath the notes. She listened with her eyes closed to the sermon, which was about letting God into your worst drawers and closets, and how healing could not happen if you let God into a living room that had been cleaned for the occasion. If you wanted the healing, you had to show God the mess” (Annie Lamott, Blue Shoe [New York: Riverhead Books, 2002], p. 34).

I wandered from God in the early years of my adulthood. I was busy figuring things out for myself and was trying to prove that I didn’t need anyone or anything. What kept me connected through all that time were the hymns that I’d learned growing up. My devotions during that period consisted of nothing more than playing those hymns on the piano late at night with the lights turned off. “Echoes of mercy, whispers of love,” were how Fannie Crosby described such connections in a line from my favorite hymn, “Blessed Assurance.” Hearing those echoes and whispers in the darkness was enough to keep the flame of God’s love flickering until the daybreak of his grace became my reality.

My experience is not unique. We will all need songs in the night until we see God face to face “And there will be no more night; they need no light of lamp or sun, for the Lord God will be their light, and they will reign forever and ever” (Rev. 22:5). If you are listening for a particular melody or words, stop! Lie still in the darkness, surrender everything, even your hope to him and wait. God, himself, wants to be your song.

O Thou in whose presence my soul takes delight,
On whom in affliction I call,
My comfort by day and my song in the night,
My hope, my salvation, my all!

–Joseph Swain (1761-1796)

“O taste and see that the Lord is good. Happy are those who take refuge in him” (Ps. 34:8).

Under the mercy of Christ,


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