One Sunday afternoon earlier this month, soft light poured through the stained glass windows of Trinity Church at the heart of Boston's Back Bay. John Rutter's "Requiem" filled the air, and an almost palpable peace settled across the choir stalls and the shoulders of a rapt audience.
"Lord God of hosts, heaven and earth are full of thy glory," sang the choir, and those words perfectly captured the spirit of the occasion.
Nearly 900 people had come together to hear the combined choirs of Trinity Church, under Rutter's baton, perform the Requiem, which, for me, was suffused with uplifting, healing messages.
As I listened, it occurred to me that the glorious sounds we were hearing weren't just dropping effortlessly from the high, carved ceilings like those rose and mauve shafts of light. They flowed from many hours of rehearsal - from a sense of purpose and commitment to excellence, a goal set and achieved.
As the Monitor's founder, Mary Baker Eddy, observed: "There is no excellence without labor; and the time to work, is now. Only by persistent, unremitting, straight- forward toil; by turning neither to the right nor to the left, seeking no other pursuit or pleasure than that which cometh from God, can you win and wear the crown of the faithful" ("Miscellaneous Writings 1883-1896," page 340).
I'd seen composer and conductor Rutter in action before, and I know only too well what he expects of those who join with him in singing God's praises. "We need a thousand percent concentration," I recall him saying during rehearsals for a previous performance at Trinity. "Watch those starts. No slithering. You must feel absolutely together." Then, after a meaningful pause, "Think of every word and its meaning."
For me, the thought of savoring every word of praise and its meaning is an integral part of the Christian experience. So is diligent practice. In the music of our lives, don't we all need perseverance in order to achieve harmony, balance, articulation, so that the composer's (or Creator's) message will emerge clearly and beautifully - and will inspire others?
During my piano-playing days, my parents insisted on just three things: Practice. Practice. Practice. And by practice they meant, "Do it so often that it becomes natural to you - part of your nature, of your daily experience. A good habit." And they urged me to learn Bible passages and hymns by heart so that they would come to mind in times of need - verses that would become instant, reliable, healing companions.
Too often I've found myself assuming that living the Christian life is easy, and that if we ask God with enough piety and fervor, everything we want will drop like manna into our lap. But I'm learning that living the Christian life takes practice. And any practice routine calls for diligence, patience, and perseverance - words that feature prominently in the Scriptures.
I am also learning that any tedium felt during practice is eased when you have a clear goal in sight, something to work toward - and when procrastination isn't an option. Elevated purpose does wonders for motivation and achievement.
Study of the Bible and "Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures" dispels doubts about life purpose. In Science and Health Mrs. Eddy wrote, "What we most need is the prayer of fervent desire for growth in grace, expressed in patience, meekness, love, and good deeds" (page 4).
John Rutter's musical "good deeds" have brought joy to millions of people. Especially at this time of year, his recordings are heard throughout the English-speaking world. But I suspect that what people most appreciate is his diligence in preparing for performances such as the one given in Boston recently.
No wonder Mrs. Eddy also wrote in Science and Health that "self-denial, sincerity, Christianity, and persistence alone win the prize, as they usually do in every department of life" (page 462).
Not all of us will, like Rutter, leave our mark on the concert halls and recording studios of the world, but I find it good to be reminded of the importance of diligent practice in every worthy undertaking. The things we do routinely and with a conviction of their value to us and to others become easier - including prayers and good deeds.