Instruments in a Symphony of Grace

violin - image by Plateresca/iStockphoto/Getty Images

“Make me an instrument of your peace,” we regularly pray at our parish. I wonder what instrument I would be in God’s orchestra—an oboe, a cello, or something else?

Following Jesus involves playing a part in a graced performance. The Holy Spirit conducts beautiful movements, offers subtle direction, and provides new sheets of music just as I think I’ve run out of pages.

I’d like to be in the violin section, not the first chair, but maybe in the third row. Not all of God’s instruments star in solos. As a violin I imagine a bow in the hand of the Master Musician, who holds me and draws me closer. Deep within I resonate with a melody I hardly recognize as God works to create dynamic movements.

When I was a month old, my parents took me for Baptism, and the music reached a crescendo. But I’ve been picking up notes for my part in God’s symphony since before I was born. Countless people prayed for me in utero, because my closest sibling had a grave birth defect. I will never know all the instruments of God’s grace that influenced my life. My ancestors really knew how, as St. Paul said, to address “one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart.” (Ephesians 5:19, ESV) Our family regularly sang together.

Setting a passage to music helps me memorize Scripture. Later the melody and message surface unsolicited, just when I need them. I’ve felt music permeate my body with tangible sound waves. God works like that. I vibrate with gratitude for the Divine Presence. But I’m not alone in my labors. God always accompanies me, even when I’m stumbling on the notes.

The Psalms call for timbrel and harp to praise the Creator. The harp might sit front and center, but even when it doesn’t, its showy shape is unmissable. Some people are like that. Do I appreciate them, even though we are very different? In an orchestra, the harp appears only occasionally in the score, and yet its ethereal-sounding strings soothe the listener.

On the other hand, it’s surprising when the timpani booms or cymbals clash. How often those instruments sit, waiting for their short but tremendous contribution to the body of music! I’m something beautiful in the music that is God’s creative self-expression. When called upon, we need to play our parts with passion.

Some days I feel like a baby oblivious to the commotion as she pounds randomly on piano keys. And still, God works with such chaos.

Music is my favorite prayer style. I wonder if Jesus played a simple instrument, had a good voice, and whether he loved to sing. I then think about the instruments gracing my life, those people who bring out the best music within me. I remember two specific confessors who served as instruments of grace when sinful patterns threatened to overwhelm me. Their wise words turned me back to the Divine.

Taking part in God’s symphony involves repetitions as key themes weave in and out. God unites a diverse community to harmonize as God’s Son plays alongside.

Jesus, you are music to my ears, and oh, how sweet the sound.

18 COMMENTS

  1. I hope that I don’t hit a sour note here…yes, this is a wonderful reflection. And the metaphor of being an instrument of God’s will is helpful. All good metaphors reveal something true and let us see in new ways. And yes, much of our growth comes from letting go of our own wills and doing the will of God instead.

    that’s hard.

    But metaphors have their limits. Love isn’t like a red red rose in all ways. Metaphors leave out as much as they contain in order to be effective.

    And so: God doesn’t mean for us to be mere “instruments of His grace” in the sense of being tools in His hand. A hammer isn’t involved in a dialogue with the carpenter. A hammer can’t say “yes” and “no”. We can. God wants us to be willing partners. He draws us deeper into Grace through our desirous participation. We’re made to be able to make free choices. An oboe or violin can’t do that.

    I play classical guitar. I’m (potentially) a more profound instrument in God’s hand than my guitar is mine, because I can try to consciously join in with God’s work in a non-“instrumental” way.

    • I love puns! I laughed out loud.
      Thank you for adding an important dimension to this post: free will is a tremendous gift, and we are more than instruments.
      Let’s guit-ar hearts in alignment with God’s.

      • Oh, the puns! Careful or we’ll encourage each other on! Yes, any reflection that causes others to think of additional aspects of the issue is rich and substantial. Of course you never meant that we were “merely” instruments; sorry if I was belaboring the obvious.

        Like Diane I hadn’t thought of musical instruments before; I will now. Thank you again for writing this.

  2. This reflection is hauntingly magical. The tones, the vibrations, the varying sounds melding together in symphonic grace the vibrant melody that the Conductor, the Holy Spirit gently guides to inspire and fill the heart with much joy, serenity and love. That’s how I responded to the images and sounds that vibrated in the corners of my mind and gently wended their way to my heart.
    I was not a particular instrument as in being a violin or an oboe, but an instrument nevertheless, as a silent but deeply engaged listener willing and happy to share the ineffable joy and richness of grace I have been blessed to receive with the people of God I am privileged to encounter.
    A moment of stillness while relishing the beautiful instrumentals. Warm thanks to you Mrs Pehanich.

    • Music has a way of haunting the soul, and God sure uses that. I hope we all add a little extra music to our day in the form of a song of praise and thanks.

  3. Beautiful meditation. Sometimes, too, when we play, the quality of our music isn’t of symphonic quality as we try to play the Holy Spirit’s compositions. And sometimes we even hit sour notes. But we strive to do our best if we listen to Jesus to hone our skills.
    “And when they had sung a hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives.” (Mt 26:30) I have a hunch that Jesus, inventor of music, loved to sing.

    • I love that scripture about Jesus singing the Psalms!I had forgotten about that. I wonder if Jesus was a baritone or a tenor?

  4. I just love this explanation of music and prayer. Can relate 100%. I sing in a church choir and have hardly missed a practice in 30 years – pandemics aside !! Thank you. Karen Saunders, Karori, Wellington, NZ. Currently in a nationwide snap Alert Level 4 lockdown.

  5. I love the imagery you provide in this reflection. I never thought before about specific musical instruments when contemplating the phrase, “Make me an instrument of your peace.” I thought more in terms of a tool, like a doctor’s scalpel or carpenter’s hammer. This imagery is more poetic. And thanks for the idea of setting a passage of Scripture to music to help with remembering it.

  6. This lovely metaphor reminds us that we are all a part of something sacred and beautiful even if our instrument happens to be the tiny piccolo.

    • And even if we are contra bassoons. Believe it or not, I think God can take off-key notes and make something beautiful out of them as well.

  7. I love this! The concept of us as harp, cymbal, violin, piano made me think of others and myself and how we can play together in these different ways and sometimes create beautiful music and sometimes just loud noise. And just the whole concept of music all the different instruments that exist are all necessary to play certain pieces. Love it! A great article to read just before my staff meeting too! Thanks.

  8. This is one of the best, inspiring articles I have read in a long time. (Instruments in a Symphony of Grace).
    What instrument would I be? As a child in school I longed to play the triangle. (primary grades) It seemed that it never got to be my turn. It didn’t stop me from still yearning. Now, just shy of 90 years old , I still want to hear that special “ting”.
    Thank you for my walk down memory lane, it was special. In music we worship twice. The Holy Spirit still conducts my life and my journey is going strong.

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