Sunday, January 06, 2013

Rhythm: The Time for Yes and the Time for No

Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. 
Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. 
Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. 
Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. 
I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. 
Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.
Matthew 11:28-30, The Message

Grooving—that’s life at its best. That’s what musicians—and especially drummers—describe as that moment when you’re feeling the rhythm so deeply that you’re almost obligated to stay in it. Not too fast, nor too slow. You’re “in the groove.” You’re feeling “the unforced rhythms of grace.” (I love that paraphrase!) It’s the result of hearing the yeses, testing them, and then finding the right rhythm of yes and no, of notes and spaces. (You can see my video about this rhythm here.)
When the 16th century master artist, Leonardo da Vinci, was working on The Last Supper, he would without warning take a break.  The prior of Santa Maria delle Grazie was not amused and entreated Leonardo with tiresome persistence to complete the work.  The prior complained to the Duke who questioned Leonardo about his working habits. Leonardo, we are told, persuaded the duke that “the greatest geniuses sometimes accomplish more when they work less.”
Some like to describe this optimal state of life as balance. And that description works ok, if it implies the right mixture of activities that promote the good life. The problem with balance—or “the balanced life”—is that it sounds as if living well is to find some equipoise between equal parts of two different things, like relaxation and work.
I prefer describing life at its best as rhythm because it’s dynamic. Balance remains essentially a vision of things staying there on a scale. Balance is a teeter-totter that’s horizontal to the earth. It just stands there. A great rhythm, on the other hand, has movement and dynamism. It integrates a variety of different inputs. Some snare drum there, mixing with a thumping bass and spiced with a shaker, a tambourine, or some conga.
The key then is good rhythm among all the calls in life. Conversely, it’s not really work/life “balance” because I’m saying that all these three major areas in the triangle—personal life, work, and love—need to play off one another to create a rhythmic beauty.
Rhythm—and this is the most important part and the one that’s often missed—has that expert relationship between sound and silence. To keep making noise is just that: noise. But a good rhythm has notes and spaces, and that’s what makes it work. And even more than work, that’s what makes it interesting and sometimes scintillating. 
The Bible also describes these moments of refreshing, of returning to God in the midst of heavy activity and even strife. One of my favorite verses finds its way into the prophecies of Isaiah:

In returning and rest you shall be saved;
In quietness and trust shall be your strength.
(Isaiah 30:15)

This prophecy came to the people of Israel at a time of war and therefore great social stress. They needed to hear about the rhythm of working hard and of returning to God. Their strength would arise when they rested. The yes to work came out of the no-work of rest. Tellingly, they did not take up the offer because the next line reads, “But you refused.” Will you and I resist God’s call to work and rest?
We need to listen to the call to return and rest. And in this rest and returning, we practice the right rhythm of yes and no.

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