Then I said, I will not make mention of him,
nor speak any more in his name.
But his word was in mine heart as a burning fire shut up in my bones,
and I was weary with forbearing,
and I could not stay.
When I was a teenager, still in Idaho, I loved Andy Barth’s classical guitar hymns – despite how I had been well-indoctrinated with this idea that guitars were only tools of the devil used for rock music. While I think I knew deep down that wasn’t completely true, I hadn’t ever heard anything like this music before. I liked all the tracks. No, I loved them. They were fresh, reverent, and relaxing. One particular one, though, being a favourite hymn of mine and featuring a violin, had a particular hold on me: it was a crucial part of the last little stretch of my Mennonite life right before it blew up in my face, and everything got turned upside down: My Jesus, I Love Thee.
On a Tuesday evening at the end of July in 2009, we were at a friend’s place for a small group Bible study and supper, and Jim and Frances Carpenter and their kids were there. I barely knew any of them yet, but we walked in and Jim and Ben were playing this song. On guitar and violin. Instant transport back in time.
Somehow I knew I liked and trusted these people just based on this simple little piece of music, a bridge got forged across a chasm of unpleasantness, and it started me on the path towards healing.
Time went on and we did indeed become better friends with this family, and one day Frances mentioned that Kylie was interested in playing the harp.
I rolled it over in my mind, agonising for a long time. I really wanted to let her borrow mine and see what she could do with it. But if I let her borrow it, then I might have some ‘splainin to do. I mean, who goes and buys a harp and then doesn’t play it? I wasn’t sure if I was ready for that. But finally I decided to offer it to her and she took me up on it, and over to their house I went with it. I got it all tuned up for Kylie.
I had sturdily intended not to play anything while I was there, but it was inside trying to come out, like the fire in Jeremiah’s bones, and I could not keep it in. I mean, you can’t very well make sure it’s in tune without playing something, right? So I played something. Most everyone was in the other room and I suppose I thought maybe they wouldn’t hear.
I still remember what it was, too: O Thou in Whose Presence. I may or may not have had to leave the room shortly afterwards because raw emotion overtook me as soon as Jim started prodding me about this heretofore hidden musician-facet of myself, and I wasn’t prepared to deal with that in front of people. I knew I was eventually going to tell them my story, but not yet. It wasn’t time.
Thanks (or no thanks) to my inability to sit on my hands that day, Jim grilled me on a regular basis for the next three years as to why I wouldn’t play for church. Maybe not grilled, exactly, but reminded me often that I kept saying no and that he thought this was ridiculous.
“Why won’t you just play?”
“You have a TALENT. It is a SIN to bury your talent.”
“I’m envisioning this song for special music. I’m hearing flutes. And a harp.”
And so on. I bought a violin and started learning to play it, tried to hide behind that, even played it for church a number of times, but it didn’t phase him. He kept asking anyway.
Let me talk a little bit about the violin. I really enjoyed it. I even took some lessons. But my love affair with it was short-lived when I realised that I couldn’t tune the thing to save my life, and I couldn’t change the strings. I had to walk down to the music shop every time I wanted either of these things done. While we still lived two blocks from the music shop, this was no big deal, but when we moved to the country I quickly realised that this wasn’t going to be able to go on. I either was going to have to learn to do these things myself or quit playing. The tuning frustrated me so much on its own that my violin stood more or less abandoned in a corner from the time we moved to the country. I kept thinking, “Harp strings are so easy to change. I can tune a harp myself. I had it good before.”
In the summer of 2012, I took my child and attended Restoration International‘s family camp in Boring, Oregon. It was a mixed bag of highs and lows (mostly lows) due to the highly charged hormones I was dealing with, being pregnant, but one very positive thing will always stand out in my memory: Hannah Rayne‘s harp. Since I was far too chicken to ask to play it, I wanted nothing more than to sit in the meeting-hall and listen to her (or another girl whose name I don’t know) call forth music from its strings. Something in me stirred and tried to rise up. I had taken a voice memo on my iPod of one of the songs the girl played, and I listened to it obsessively in the weeks afterwards.
Suddenly I wanted Roisín back. Really, badly, wanted her back. I wanted to play that same melody I had heard at family camp. Or anything at all, really.
I deliberated a while. Just as when I had first loaned Kylie the harp, now I hesitated to ask for it back. I still wasn’t ready to play for church, and I knew Jim would jump at any chance to ask me yet again if I would.
Continue Reading: IV – Out of the Closet
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