Fiddler in the Shadows

I love traditional Irish music, a genre known by those familiar with it as “Irish trad.”

Every year in summer, a festival in my area draws in an influx of Irish trad bands and musicians.  My husband and I attend the festival every year, shopping from all the stalls and enjoying the activities before grabbing dinner from a food truck and settling down to watch performers all night long. It’s one of our favorite long-standing traditions.

This year, we stayed later than usual—so late that the stage lights came on over the performers.  And, as we watched one band perform, I was fascinated to see that the lighting had cast the band’s fiddler in perfect silhouette.  I couldn’t see the details of his face or even the clothes he had on, but he cut an unmistakable figure against the lights: a dark shadow against a bright wash of illumination, playing with the fervor that all serious fiddlers do.

If you’ve listened to a fiddle much, you’ll find that the sound of it is impossible to miss even when it vies with other instruments to be heard.  It can run from melancholy to joyful, sometimes within the same song; it can be both bold and delicate.  As I sat there watching the shadowed fiddler play his music, I marveled.

And I thought of God, too.  Look for the music, and you’ll find the Musician.

I think often of what Philip Yancey has termed the “shyness” of God: God’s distinct disinclination to force Himself on people.  God likes to be sought, found, discovered.  He enjoys extending invitations, welcoming, coaxing, wooing.  But He is not going to break down the door to the human heart and set up residence there against anyone’s will.

So it is with music, and the fiddler I saw at the festival.  There was no entry fee or wristband or bracelet.  There were no hawkers or posters or signs.  The music itself was the only lure.  People could wander in at any point and stay for as little or as long as they liked.  It was wonderful to see the crowd grow as the evening went on, drawn to a shadowed fiddler playing on the stage.

Here’s the simple truth: the good stuff usually speaks for itself.

It’s true of the church, too.  At its best—and I think it is easy to forget this when we list the sins, flaws, and problems of Christ’s church over the years, of which there are sadly many—the church is balm for and an aid to humanity.  It sends doctors and nurses and builds hospitals where they are needed.  It cares for plague victims with no concern for its own health.  It feeds the hungry and reaches out to those oppressed, crushed, and downtrodden.  It rejoices in prison. It offers peace in chaos.  It is the music of the great Musician.

It draws people in.

“Man, oh man,” said an older gentleman after the fiddler had finished playing to a standing ovation and loud crowd approval, “can you believe I almost missed this?  When I heard it I just had to come in.”

I can think of no higher compliment Christ’s church could wish for: that when people see us living our lives, doing what Jesus has commanded us to do, they have to come in.  They aren’t pushed or hounded or cajoled or coaxed or frog-marched in.  They want to be there.  They’re curious, hungry, delighted, wondering.

Because the truth about fiddling is that it can’t be faked.  The proof is in the pudding.  Nobody can pick up a fiddle two hours before a show, wander onstage, and then play like the fiddler I heard at the festival.  His skill and the music he made was testament to what must have been endless hours of practice and effort and performances.

If you seek Christ earnestly in the large and the small, if you are living a life dedicated to Him and His desires for us, it’ll show.  It can’t be faked.  And, as with music, people wandering by will stop—and stare—and maybe linger, just to listen in.

The great Musician’s work, after all, isn’t something to be missed.

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