Meditation: When there are… too many notes

At 9:30 on Tuesdays and Thursdays, St. Paul’s Within the Walls Episcopal Church in Rome, Italy offers a morning office of Contemplative Prayer. It’s kind of awkward to see from the outside, admittedly, if you aren’t used to… people… you know… just sitting there… and doing nothing. It’s certainly not our most attended service.

Before 9:30 every morning, we also have a beautifully majestic, mostly empty, perfectly silent sanctuary with one of the most lovely pipe organs in all of Rome. I’ll have to get back to you with the details of why that organ is so special–but suffice it to say, the organ-playing people around here really love and respect it.

Very often, our 9:30 start cuts short the practice session for whomever is working up next Sunday’s special music or a convoluted concert piece. The scholar or the director smile, nod, hop off the bench, and leave–returning us to the relative quiet of an urban church.

But not this week. At long last, we convinced our maestro to keep going.

As I laid back on the pew seat and settled into a focused breath, I followed each note. There were lots to choose from.

It’s J.S. Bach, not Mozart, in case you were wondering.

The notes flew past; the spaces between them were as necessary to the music as the sound itself. As I followed the beauty, I thought about my thoughts. So many of them! So fast! Sometimes, when I am gentle with myself, I can value that some of those thoughts are just as beautiful and musical and powerful as the rapid arpeggios and the flying feet of a master at play.

And luckily, what listening to his fast music and my fast thinking had to offer was a metaphorical lesson: unless it’s broken, my mind doesn’t ever hold one note too long.  And as much ruminating and overthinking as I am prone to do, I still can know when something is out of tune–grating, like a stuck pedal or a note that falls out of tune with the melody the longer it’s held–and change it.

So as we finished our sit in the silence, I was overcome with gratitude for getting to practice how to be still when things are busy, how to find quiet when things are noisy, and for a simple awareness of so many available choices to change my tune.