Beethoven transformed the symphony.
Madonna transformed music videos.
The Real World transformed television (hello reality shows!).
In the beautiful piece Enigma Variations, the composer takes a musical theme and transforms it to represent the different personalities of 14 of his friends. Listen here to the 1st movement to hear the initial theme and then compare it to my favorite movement, Nimrod.
So music, as it is transformed, is often simple to hear even for the novice listener. In life on the other hand, those transformational moments might be a little harder to spot. I remember for example the moment I fell in love with books.
It was library period and I was in the 1st grade. I found myself aimlessly wondering among the pungent wooden shelves, looking for a book, not sure what I wanted to open. On the bottom shelf of one particular bookcase stood a large rectangular book with a picture on the front of a boy and a cat. We had a cat at home that I was very attached to, so I thought I might like to read a story about one. As the story unfolded with only a sentence or two per page- the pictures illustrating for me as I stumbled over the big words- I got to know this little boy and his cat. The cat was his best friend and the tale drew me into their fun daily adventures. At the end of the book, his cat grew ill and he watched it grow weaker and weaker and eventually die.
You may be thinking to yourself, what kind of book for first graders is this?!!?
Wait, don’t judge! Out of this came an incredible experience. I was there with that boy, experiencing his pain; amazed that a book could take me to this deep emotional place. For the first time in my life as I read a book, I wept. I enjoyed that experience so much that I immediately opened the book again and started to read it from the beginning and was confused when I didn’t have the same emotional reaction the second time. This book had transported me and this moment TRANSFORMED me into a life-long reader.
So, what lessons can we take from this simple story to help us remain open to life-altering moments as they come our way? I don’t know about you, but I don’t want to miss them!
1. Enter the Library
Sounds simple, right? But what if I decided before I ever gave the library a chance that it was a boring place where nothing fun happened thereby closing myself off to the experience? Mark Twain once said, “In a good bookroom you feel in some mysterious way that you are absorbing the wisdom contained in all the books through your skin, without even opening them.”
And it’s not just libraries. For example, I can listen to the 2nd movement of Beethoven 7 in my living room all day, but when I sit down in Carnegie Hall and let the strains of the symphony pour over me I am transported into another realm. We owe it to ourselves to enter that church, to sit under that willow tree, or wander that beautiful museum for an afternoon and see what those spaces whisper to us that can’t be heard in the middle of our hustling and bustling lives.
2. Test the waters
The Bible says, “Taste and see that the Lord is good.” Why would that be in there? Because God knew that many of us would live our lives afraid to even have a taste of him.
True transformations come when we genuinely allow ourselves to test out a new experience. I can’t tell you how many friends I have that are repulsed by the church and church people because of horrible things they have seen so-called Christians do and say in the name of Jesus. I’ve witnessed some pretty awful stuff myself and can see why they feel that way. That being said, some of these same people have a curiosity about who Jesus really is that has never been satisfied because they have never tested the waters themselves.
They’ve never stepped into the library. They’ve never opened the book.
Testing the waters is risky. But no true transformation is possible without leaving our comfort zones and entering a new space. Blaise Pascal said, “There is a God shaped vacuum in the heart of every man which cannot be filled by any created thing…” We can only begin to fill that vacuum when we are bold enough to taste and see.
3. Go Beyond the Emotion
It’s important for us to grasp that transformational moments are deeper than the emotion that goes along with them. If I’d left that book reading incident just experiencing the feelings, I wouldn’t have taken the time to notice and understand the deeper underlying truth of that moment. The same is true in spiritual matters. I think we often want to “feel” God so we leave an emotionally packed spiritual experience feeling better for a few hours, but not experiencing any lasting change. It is left up to us to reflect deeply so that profound change is possible. We’ve got to truly capture our learning so that these transformational opportunities aren’t lost in the ebb and flow of our hard-wired habits.
As William Wordsworth said,“Habit rules the unreflecting herd.” I don’t know about you, but the herd mentality is of no interest to me. Instead, let’s be open to and aware of the moments in our lives where our minds and thoughts can be transformed for the better.