I got the opportunity to play keyboard with a group of really talented musicians as the host band for a Catholic conference for middle schoolers this weekend in Amarillo, Texas. Since my family and I have been out of church for about nine months, I haven’t played much praise and worship, so when the leader of the group, Franky, asked me to play with them I was excited. I showed up Friday night for sound check and a brief rehearsal before heading off to the hotel with everyone, and I knew from that evening that I was going to really enjoy playing music with these guys. The next day we kicked the morning off with some energetic worship songs. I had a blast playing lead synth and watching the kids jump up and down singing the words that were projected onto the giant screen behind us. The familiar songs came back to me as I swiped through the chord charts on the iPad. To say the least, I had missed playing praise and worship like this and was thankful for the opportunity to play again. However, it wasn’t until the evening portion of the conference that I truly felt something unique, and it compelled me to share with you my experience.
One of the last activities at the conference was a time of meditation and reflection on God practiced in Catholicism called Adoration. Franky and I were asked to provide music to set the atmosphere for this holy hour of acknowledgement and reflection. As we sat on the stage and the conference leader prepared the room for Adoration, I felt a sense of great responsibility. This was more than playing piano softly for an hour; this was a time to meditate on the nature of God. This was sacred. As we began the first song, “How He Loves,” I knew this was going to be a special experience. I’ve played “How He Loves” more times than I would like to count, and I’ve always enjoyed playing it, but this particular moment was beyond enjoyment. A deep appreciation resonated within me as I mouthed the words of the song, and in that moment the words I had sung countless times before became real. I was overwhelmed by the poetry, by the concept of this Love that I can’t comprehend completely. I was overwhelmed attempting to acknowledge something, someone as vast and mysterious as God. As we continued playing, we strayed off of the traditional structure of the song and entered into a delicate improvisation of the melody over the chords. I let my fingers wander about the keys, contracting and expanding on this energy that was now very present. It was this way for the rest of the songs in that hour. Franky and I slipped into certain harmonies that chilled my body, we felt the direction of the music and followed each other without saying a word or looking at each other.
This was more than just an enjoyable musical experience.
In a very difficult way to describe, each note was an expression of my spirit, of my very being. The melodies and harmonies we created allowed me to worship in a way that transcended the boundaries of human language. It was absolutely liberating. There was this sincere and intimate focus on this omnipotent Being that created and continues to create the cosmos, the Universe. I felt terrified, and yet I felt adoration. I felt small and insignificant, and yet I felt deeply connected to this Being and to the Universe and I felt valued. A peace washed over me and swept away my worries and fears and insecurities. I didn’t want this peace to go away. In that moment I recognized that this was a glimpse into the kingdom of God. This was a very real thing that exists in the present, not some distant paradise to wait for until I am put in the ground. My experience during Adoration was a mere glance into the mysterious and divine peace that is the kingdom of God, and yet this mere glance overwhelmed me with deep joy. As we played the final note of the hour, there was a holy silence.
The energy in the room lingered for a while before it left quietly like a final breath.
As the conference leader continued the rest of the evening with the kids, Franky turned to me and said, “Wow. That was my favourite part of this entire day.” I couldn’t have agreed more. My most sincere hope is that the kids and sponsors sitting in that room, despite having a long and tiring day, were able to have a similar experience during Adoration. It was my first Adoration to be a part of, and though I am not Catholic, I certainly think there is value in acknowledging and meditating on the mysterious and powerful nature of God whether it comes from silent reflection or playing piano or gazing into the night sky. I’m thankful for my experience this weekend, and I pray that these glimpses into the kingdom of God not seem like random, fleeting moments in an otherwise dark and cold world, but instead that we would recognize the fact that the kingdom of God exists here in the present to be experienced in times like Adoration and also in the most unlikely of places. May we open our hearts and minds to the kingdom and may that divine peace spill into our lives and into the lives of the people around us.
Have you ever stopped to look at the night sky? Have you ever stopped everything and truly appreciated the beauty of the glistening stars above our heads? Each and every one of those holes in the sky – heavenly bodies hundreds of thousands and millions and even billions of lightyears away. All suspended in the nothingness – all suspended the magnificence of the vacuum of the cosmos. ¹There are a lot of stars, in fact, more stars in the known Universe than grains of sand on Earth’s collective beaches. But here is a strange thought – the Universe is 99.9999999958% empty.
All of matter makes up .000000000042% of the Universe. Those stars you see when you gaze up at the night sky, our Moon that illuminates the darkness, our Sun that brings life, the planets that orbit the Sun (our tiny home included), the comets that shoot across the sky, each brilliant galaxy stretching hundreds of thousands of light years across make up .000000000042% of the Universe. ²With so much emptiness, aren’t stars, planets, and people just glitches in an otherwise elegant and uniform nothingness, like pieces of lint on a black sweater? When you back the camera up, we become pathetically insignificant very quickly. Little flakes of dust wandering in an ocean of darkness.
I stumbled across a really cool model of our solar system titled “If the Moon Were Only 1 Pixel.” When we see traditional models of our solar system, the planets in relation to each other and the Sun cannot be accurately spaced apart. There just isn’t enough room on the poster to accurately depict just how far everything really is spread out, and so we lose the sense of vastness that our solar system and the emptiness that contains it really are. The model I came across recently, however, attempts to open the eyes of its beholders to the extraordinary distances that we would have to travel to visit every planet in the solar system. I highly encourage you right now to stop reading this right now and click this link (you will have to scroll to the right to begin to model) to experience the solar system in a much more thought-provoking and eye-opening way. It takes about 20-30+ minutes to get through depending on how much you stop and think, but it is worth every second.
Why does any of this matter though? Who cares about how big our solar system is? Who cares about how small our solar system is compared to the Universe? Who cares that we are essentially specks of dust in the cosmos?
Does anything matter at all then? Is all of this meaningless because we are insignificant and small?
Have you ever looked at a bottle of Germ-X or similar sanitation products? What do most of their labels say?
*KILLS 99.9998% OF GERMS*
Kind of funny.
If the Universe is 99.99999% nothing, are we not like the .00000001% of those strong little germs that the sanitizer doesn’t kill? Does the vast emptiness have any meaning without something there to measure it? Paradoxically, as the model of the solar system shows, we are both pathetically insignificant and miraculously important at the same time.
The fact that we exist is a miracle. Those brilliant points of light shooting across the far reaches of space to twinkle in the sky above your backyard are a miracle. The screen you are reading this on, the oxygen we inhale with our lungs, the ability for us to simply look up into the sky and understand our place in the cosmos is a miracle. So the next time you look up at the stars at night or apply Germ-X to your hand, take a moment and be comforted. Because the Being that created those points of light in the sky is the same Being that stretched them out across the nothingness and the same Being that created you to be a part of that .000000000042% in the Universe.
Existence is both humbling and reassuring. So remember how fragile and tiny we are the next time you feel like a god, and remember how incredibly special and important you are when you feel nothing matters. We are germs that survive. We are brilliant specks of dust cherished by a Being who created and continues to create the cosmos. We matter.