It can be difficult to find peace amidst the busy-ness of life. For me, one of the guaranteed times that have I found peace is in Sunday worship. The joining of souls in common worship, the saying in unison of prayers and creeds, the singing of thought-provoking hymns, and the communion around the table have been a weekly resetting of my life for over a decade now. While each one’s experience is unique, the peacefulness found in worship is no doubt a common experience for many of us.
For the last twelve months, we have been engaged in worship using such tools as Zoom, Facebook Live, and YouTube, which have allowed us to continue liturgical services and have, perhaps, joined us in new community. That said, there is now a very different feel to that time of worship. And, during these difficult times, we have all had to find new ways to revive our spirits and feed our souls outside of our weekly worship and the standard litanies of praise.
Even outside of COVID-times, there are many ways that we can find peace and praise outside of Sunday worship. For me, it has always been through music; especially, playing the piano.
I first started learning how to play the piano when I was three years old. Granted, it wasn’t more than banging on a few keys while learning rhythms and sounds; but I have never been far from a keyboard since. I was taught through the Royal Conservatory of Music and progressed almost to the end of grade 9. There was talk of going on to be a concert pianist, but my teachers were too serious and my memory was terrible. They wanted me to memorize ten-page pieces and all I wanted to do was play and sing along to my favorite Disney theme song.
For years, I would spend hours playing everything from Bach to Bryan Adams, Scott Joplin to church hymns. As a geeky introvert, playing the piano was how I would beat away the stresses of the day.
Of course, at the time, I didn’t realize that I was experiencing this kind of catharsis—I just loved to play. But when I would have a rough day at school, I would close the doors to the living room and play song after song after song. A couple of hours would pass and I would feel better.
I learned to play other instruments as well, such as the flute and various percussion instruments (the timpani were my favorite). But my true skill lay with the piano, and so it was to the keyboard I that always returned.
It never really occurred to me that playing the piano was a way of reviving my spirit until a few years ago. During my clinical pastoral education training (CPE), I was doing my placement at St Boniface Hospital. This was at a time where I was juggling a full-time job, part time school, and my first church placement as a postulant with hopes to be a priest in the Diocese. Not only that but I had a partner and two school-aged children at home who also needed my love and time. To say it was a stressful period would be an understatement, and even Sunday morning worship could not guarantee the peace for which I sought.
In a conversation with my CPE instructor, we talked about stress management and she asked what I did for self-care with regards to daily stress. I thought that I wasn’t doing much for self-care but upon further discernment, I realized that playing the piano brought me peace and calmed my spirit.
The chapel at the hospital had a piano, and so, I decided that before my class I would play one song to reduce my stress and calm my nerves. I was amazed at the change in my soul before heading off to do visits or go to class.
But I shouldn’t have been surprised. When I think back on my teenage years of playing, I can now recall the peacefulness that would come into my soul as I played.
Now, I enjoy playing for my family and, especially, my partner. Whenever everyone is feeling stressed, all I have to do is play their favorite hymns or songs and a feeling of calm washes over the entire household. Sometimes, listening to me play even helps my children to fall asleep.
Music is a very powerful force of nature and it is a universal language of the soul. Sometimes music is the only thing that takes your mind off everything else. Losing yourself in the words or the notes is just as much a litany of praise as is being pulled into a well-delivered sermon. Even as I write this reflection, I have the beautiful sounds of an orchestra playing in my ears. As I begin my liturgical preparation, I listen to Steve Bell. As I write my sermons, I listen to classical piano. Music has that way of bringing peace to the soul and, as it turns out, getting the creative juices flowing. As the popular saying goes, “Music is life. That’s why our hearts have beats.”
Theo Robinson is the incumbent at St. Michael’s Anglican Church in Victoria Beach, a pastor in the Interlake Regional Shared Ministry with the Lutheran Church of the MNO Synod, and a spiritual care practitioner in health care. Follow him on Facebook and Instagram and check out his blog at tjrobinson.blogspot.com.