Life in Minor Key
Every great symphony tells a story...and it moves from the major key to minor back to major almost seamlessly. Both major and minor keys are beautiful, and pivotal to the story that symphony is telling, But, both express themselves in vastly different ways.
Major Key is a noticeably brighter tune. . .happier and more glorious. It brings with it a crescendo, a decided resolution to the tune. Major speaks of hope and victory and conquest.
Minor Key on the other hand is more of a dirge. It’s the music of suffering, of pain…of anguish...of doubt and confusion. It’s notes leave the feeling of being imcomplete and unresolved.
If our lives tell a rhythmic story of conquest and defeat, joy and pain, of confusion and resolution. Each life sacredly consists of major and minor key.
Personally, I find myself in recent months with a song that is more in the tune of minor key than major. And, my hope is to understand and grow to appreciate this piece of the song that God, the master conductor, is orchestrating with my life. What’s to appreciate, learn and grow from when our life’s song is singing in the tune of minor key? This is the question I’ve been pondering.
I recently wrote a prayer to God in a moment of raw honesty:
My heart feels callous for some reason unknown. My eyes are dry. My thoughts subdued. What is it Lord? Where are you Lord? Who am I Lord? What is this whirlwind that I'm going through? Is it internal, external, eternal or all the above? Lord, I don't want it, this cup of darkness and confusion, but I will gladly accept. I just beg more understanding. Make my marching orders clear. Help me come out of the fog and see a rightly what you are up to in my life.
Can you relate? Have you had those seasons in life and with God marked by the minor key? For those of us who are in or have lived life in minor key, there lies before us a great temptation, a great truth and great paradox.
A Great temptation
We are pastors. Whether consciously or subconsciously we believe that our role is to be in charge, to know what the next move is and how to get there. We are the CEO, the leader, the shepherd. As the shepherd we assume we are to know where we are, where we are heading….at all times.
The temptation to avert, and/or deny the reality of minor key.
It’s assumed, if not demanded, by our parish, our colleagues and too often from ourselves that we have more answers than questions, more joys than sadness...more peaks than valleys...more victories than defeats.
We have church boards and committees to answer to who want actions and initiatives v and decisions. We minister to people who are in peril, who need answers and help and solutions. And, this requires from us major key kinds of responses…there is little place on our plate for minor key. And, for pastors is to avert this part of our life’s song all together.
Yet, the whole of Scripture seems to indicate that the spiritual journey we are on, is not lived exclusively in the major key. The Bible seems to promise that we will go through seasons that are characterized by questioning (Ecclesiastes), lamenting and anguish (Lamentations), and struggle to understand what God is up to in our lives (Job)....and the hope that we long for often is found from within our painful groanings and desperate longings (Romans 8).
In fact, the more I read the Bible, the more I see that almost all it’s character spend a considerable amount of time plunking around the tune of minor key. Much wandering, wrestling and struggling. Even the name Israel means “one who struggles with God”.
Ever read a Psalm? How about the one that Jesus quoted from the cross…. “Why are you so far from saving me??? So far from the words of my groaning? I cry out to you by day and by night, but why do you not answer? The melodic rhythm to these words is not in major...it’s definitively in minor key.
Whether we look to Job, Jacob, Joseph, David, Elijah, Habakkuk, Jonah, Paul, Peter, people of faith had significant times of life marked by trials, suffering, hardship, doubt, depression, questioning, hopelessness, struggle….and the Bible doesn’t have an aversion to it. It’s not ashamed to speak of it. To own it.
Even the Lord Jesus, is said to have been a man of sorrows, acquainted with grief. Lament and questioning moments were part of his journey. The tune of Golgatha can only make sense in the minor key. The anthem that begat our redemption, begins in anguish, sorrow, seeming defeat and unresolved despair.
What we conquering Americans of the 21st century seem to forget is that the old spiritual writers embraced these “dark times” much more readily than we do today. St. Ignatius speaks of two different seasons in our lives of the spiritual journey….times of consolation and seasons of desolation. During times of consolation, God’s grace is as real as the hand in front of my face. These times are marked by joyous celebration of God’s goodness and feelings of euphoria over God’s love. Yet, Ignatius too speaks of times of desolation. These times are marked by spiritual unrest as we are barraged by many questions and temptations and a lack of confidence in God. It’s those seasons where we find ourselves complacent, feeling melancholy, tepid, sad and seemingly separated from the goodness and grace of God.
Ignatius is helpful, first, by simply naming that this is a “reality” for us all….and it’s not as simple as saying this season is caused by sin or laziness. It’s often deeper than simply praying more, or picking up our Bible’s more often. It’s more complex than that. In many ways these seasons where our souls sing dirges in darkness are out of our control. . . and, yet, utterly necessary to embrace and to own and part of the journey.
The great temptation when our life’s song is singing in minor key is to pretend it’s not real. We think, “I’m a pastor, a minister of the gospel, and I have no time for this”…...However, our pastoral integrity demands us to lean into with honesty where we are with God. As shepherds of God’s flock, our own soul and the role we are in must be integrated.
However, to be in minor key, but to avert or deny it, forces us to put on masks and to deny the reality of our own life’s song. When we are in minor key, but pretend to be in major, there lies a gap between our soul and our role. Who we are and what we do are no longer integrated, and our pastoral integrity diminished.
Instead of averting and denying and wearing masks, we must learn to embrace and accept the season of minor key that we find ourselves in.
First, confess to others where we are at. Let others know that you are in a particularly challenging/sad/dark part of the spiritual journey. Don’t demonize minor key, yet ask others to pray that we get through this dark time unscathed. Secondly, Stay committed to your disciplines. Often in minor key, our disciplines can feel dry and ineffective. All, the more reason to stay the course. Lastly, God most likely wants to do a new work in our lives when we are in minor key. It doesn’t mean that all is unraveling, but just means that God wants to pull us out of our comfort zone temporarily to teach us new lessons and to ultimately draw us closer to Himself. It’s the minor key in a great song that makes the major key so much more brilliant and euphoric. We cannot bypass the rhythms of our life. Don’t give in to the temptation to deny or avert minor key. Own it. Learn from it. Lean into it.
A Great temptation
The temptation to avert, and/or deny the reality of minor key.
2. A Great Truth
- The great truth is that apart from the minor key, we cannot be sanctified.
The great truth of the matter is that frustrating and challenging place of minor key is often the place where we really begin to know God and ourselves in a more real sort of way. Do I love God when things are just honky-dory? Was my past relationship with God based on good vibes and his blessings, or do I love God simply because He’s God? Only the minor key can reveal the heart’s motives.
Am I the person I thought I was? I think of myself as a committed disciple, but now it’s hard and I’m losing patience with God, with myself? Who am I? Am I really who I think I am?
Something about living out of the minor key in our lives where we allow God to do the necessary surgery on our souls to help truly understand who God is, and who we are.
The minor key sanctifies our motives and teaches us full surrender. In the Screwtape Letters, Sr. devil Screwtape writes to Jr. devil Wormwood, “Be not deceived, Wormwood, our cause is never more in jeopardy than when a human, no longer desiring but still intending to do our Enemy's will, looks round upon a universe in which every trace of Him seems to have vanished, and asks why he has been forsaken, and still obeys.” You see, we only learn to love and obey God for God’s sake when we are in minor key. The thrust of minor key will break down our shallow ideas of who God is and who we are, and build within our life’s song a new kind of depth, richness and texture that can only emerge from the furnace of suffering. But, out of that painful chamber of heat, the dross of our lives will parish and a new purified vision of God will emerge. We will find within us a deeper, richer, more abiding song to God than we ever believed possible.
A Great Paradox
- The great paradox is that God’s major ministry through our lives, will emerge from our minor key.
God’s delight is that his power and glory be made manifest in our lives...and Paul said it this his power and glory are completed through weakness.
In recent years I have struggled with insomnia. This battle has brought me to my knees in so many ways. For me weeks and months of restless groaning over the plight of the world has been God’s training ground for me. My struggles have taught me to suffer silently and see God’s graciousness in my own impotence and weaknesses. The minor key we are going through in our lives puts us in tune with the painful song this world has been singing since the fall. And, when we join in minor key, we learn empathy that we could never grasp if our lives were only lived in major. It’s the authority of suffering itself that allows us to enter into the suffering of others.
Listen. . .it’s been my experience that most people in congregations sitting on the edge of their seats on Sunday mornings desperate for God are people who are wading in the slough of minor key. Minor key leaves us desperate for resolve, for hope, for Jesus. Without minor key, in many ways, we would have no deep need for God, nor would we appreciate the euphoria of major key.
Too often, we believe the major work of our ministry will come out of our strengths, but chances are that our most effective ministry will come out of your own suffering. Jesus greatest ministry to us came not by way of his power, but by means of his own powerlessness. We have a high priest who can, did and does sympathize with our weakness. And, God wants us to be priests who follow suit.
So, what’s the weak link in your life? The place of anguish? The dark night of your own soul? The great paradox is that the place you have wrestled with, lamented over and suffered in, is probably the area where God’s grace, power and glory will be most evident in your ministry.
Paul writes, “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God.
In closing, I want to leave you with a prayer from a man who went through the desolation of the journey. His name is Thomas Merton. His prayer has been helpful reminder that many past men and women of God have lived life in minor key. As we read, see if you are there...in this place.
A Prayer When Our Life is in “Minor Key”
My Lord God,
I have no idea where I am going.
I do not see the road ahead of me.
I cannot know for certain where it will end.
Nor do I really know myself,
and the fact that I think I am following your will
does not mean that I am actually doing so.
But I believe that the desire to please you
does in fact please you.
And I hope I have that desire in all that I am doing.
I hope that I will never do anything apart from that desire.
And I know that if I do this
you will lead me by the right road,
though I may know nothing about it.
I will trust you always
though I may seem to be lost
and in the shadow of death.
I will not fear,
for you are ever with me,
and you will never leave me to face my perils alone.
(Thomas Merton from Thoughts In Solitude)