Shattered hopes and humble offerings: when music gets cancelled

Becky Chevis 25 Mar 20

How do we best use this turbulent time to give God the glory in our musicking and in our hearts? As our gigs, projects, lectures and lessons are all cancelled or virtualised, it is easy to be sad, frustrated and disappointed, or caught up in the drama of it all and become hooked on news. As a freelance musician who has just lost nearly all my work, I am trying to work through how God is using these cancellations to grow my faith, my heart, and my ability to serve.

At the outbreak of World Ward II, CS Lewis finished a sermon (called Learning in War-Time) to a group of students with the following words:

If we had foolish un-Christian hopes about human culture, they are now shattered. If we thought we were building up a heaven on earth, if we looked for something that would turn the present world from a place of pilgrimage into a permanent city satisfying the soul of man, we are disillusioned, and not a moment too soon. But if we thought that for some souls, and at some times, the life of learning, humbly offered to God, was, in its own small way, one of the appointed approaches to the Divine reality and the Divine beauty which we hope to enjoy hereafter, we can think so still.[1]

Do you think this applies to your situation? How about if I change a few of the words:

If we had foolish un-Christian hopes about our music, they are now shattered. If we thought we were building up a heaven on earth, if we looked for audiences, gigs, rehearsal banter, or fabulous projects to turn the present world from a place of pilgrimage into a permanent city satisfying the soul of man, we are disillusioned, and not a moment too soon.

When my community music projects were cancelled, my main way of trying to ‘build up a heaven on earth’ fell flat. These projects can and often do point forward to heaven, but they only point; they do not make a satisfying, permanent city here on earth. If I thought I was saving the world with my work I was wrong. Now I am helpless to relieve the loneliness of the people I would usually make music with. I am not in control; God is, and they need Him so much more than they need me. I am so thankful that God has used me to bring joy through music projects, but I realise now that is a gift from him rather than something that is in my control.

When my gigs were cancelled I was so frustrated! My duo partner and I were about to give our first public recital with a small tour planned after. We had invested hours of practice and rehearsal time into this program and it was so frustrating to pull the plug without at least having time to record it, let alone perform and see some ticket sales! But again, now that I have been forced to take a step back I can see that I was living as if this new performance venture would satisfy me in some way. Making wonderful music with people can be a good thing, as can making wonderful music for audiences and for money, but it won’t stop ‘the present world from [being] a place of pilgrimage’; it won’t satisfy us. A wise friend said to me, ‘your practice isn’t wasted’. Even if it never reaches the ears of an audience, the practice isn’t wasted because it can be done to God’s glory and be humbly offered to God. I need to realise that my music making is a gift from God and for God in the present, rather than a way of storing up treasures for future gain whether that be money or acclaim.

Satisfaction

Losing gigs and projects has helped me see where I have been looking to my music work for satisfaction and purpose. Our musicking, rehearsal banter, teaching, learning, income and amazing projects will not ultimately satisfy us or other people. Like the teacher in Ecclesiastes tells us, searching for satisfaction or lasting significance in them is like striving after the wind; it’s all smoke, meaningless, vanity. They are good gifts that God has given us to enjoy with thankfulness, but not something to be clung onto as gain.[2]

Control

I’m learning more about what it means to believe that God is in control and that we are not. It can be comforting but also scary and deflating. I like to think I can control my work, build my career and make the lives of other people better, but now it is obvious that is not entirely true. Even after my work was cancelled, I tried to regain control by making ambitious, productive plans to refill my empty days – perhaps you have done the same. It turns out that even my ability to fulfil these plans is outside of my control. This was frustrating at first. Now I see that my lack of control and God’s total control is a good thing and it has given me peace. Being more relaxed about my time has also meant I can look outwards and see how I can help others in ways that were not in my original, controlled plan.

Thankfulness

Bizarrely, the cancellation of my most loved work, and by extension my income, has increased my thankfulness. I am squarely presented with the fact that God gives and God takes away, and now I am realising more than ever how much He gives. Remembering this habit of thankfulness is particularly important when I feel frustration or bitterness over the cancellations threatening to brew, or worry about income and my career. However much you have lost by needing to isolate, God is still good and there are things you can thank Him for.

Generosity – go serve!

In God’s kindness, thankfulness often leads to generosity. We can be generous with our time. Though key workers are busier than ever, a lot of us musicians suddenly have time on our hands and a tremendous opportunity to serve our community. Many local Foodbanks need more volunteers who are under 70 and the NHS is looking for an army of volunteers! (Apply to be an NHS volunteer here - www.goodsamapp.org/NHSvolunteerresponders.) We can also be generous with our resources. I have been made particularly aware that our Foodbanks desperately need donations of food at the moment, and I’m sure that need is global. I would encourage us all to think about what we can do to help those worst affected by the pandemic. (Yes, posting videos of ourselves may boost morale but maybe there are other things we can do too!)

Keep musicking!

Being able to help the vulnerable does not render our practice and studies worthless either. Keep going! It can be incredibly hard to keep practising when all future gigs have been cancelled, or studying when exams are uncertain, but God told humankind to steward his earth and that includes culture, minds, and talents. Whatever we do we can do for the glory of God: there is goodness and value in keeping on going with our music work. We can also encourage one another to keep practising or studying. Could you ask a friend if you could swap weekly recordings of something you have been working on to keep one another accountable and offer feedback? Or discuss the books you have been reading over the phone?

I’ll end by offering the end of CS Lewis’ sermon with some more words changed:

But if we thought that for some souls, and at some times, the life of practising, reading, writing, praying, volunteering and self-isolating, humbly offered to God, was, in its own small way, one of the appointed approaches to the Divine reality and the Divine beauty which we hope to enjoy hereafter, we can think so still.

(So how do we humbly offer our solitary activities to God? Well that sounds like a post for another day...)

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[1] Learning in War-Time by CS Lewis. A sermon preached in the Church of St. Mary the Virgin, Oxford, Autumn, 1939.

[2] cf. David Gibson, Destiny: Living life by preparing to die, (IVP, 2016).

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