Rich Paxson

What might it mean for us to be listening to the unheard voice in the midst of confusing and traumatic events in our own communities or society?

I serve our parish as volunteer treasurer, coming and going to church several times each week. One afternoon last week I entered the building through the Penn Avenue door, not my usual entrance. Right away I heard someone playing the piano in the nave, but I could not figure out who it was. It sounded like a fugue, maybe, with very long pauses between musical phrases. I guessed it was someone practicing for a Holy Week performance, and then I walked down the hallway to the finance office.

Later in the afternoon I ran into Fred as we walked toward each other down the Sunday School Wing hallway. Fred’s about my age. He’s schizophrenic, drinks too much and probably doesn’t take his medications on any kind of regular schedule. He’s the third generation of his family in our congregation, and … … … he plays the piano. It must have been Fred playing in the nave when I arrived. Did his playing express the unheard voice of the ongoing trauma of a confused and self-medicated psyche?

“Hi Fred!” I said as I passed him by on the other side of the hallway.

Fred’s confusion and trauma I find threatening, I guess. It feels like if I get too close physically or psychically he’ll breach the boundaries of my carefully constructed defenses. I seem to avoid people like Fred whenever I can, which is most of the time. When I can’t avoid them, then I feel awkward, not knowing quite what to say; but really, they don’t seem to stay around very long.

On the way out of church at the end of the day, I ran into Bill in the parish hall, who’s a doctor at our local clinic. Coincidentally to Fred playing the piano when I arrived, Bill had just finished playing a baby grand piano recently donated to the church. I didn’t hear Bill’s playing, as he was just pushing the piano back into its corner when I saw him. We talked for a while about the piano and how nice it would be to move it into the nave; but the church building is old and chopped up, moving the piano from the parish hall to the nave would be very difficult. Bill’s predictable, he’s not wounded, at least not on the surface. I felt on safe ground talking with Bill, listening to what he had to say.

As Bill and I parted, I remembered earlier just passing Fred by in the hallway, in the confused silence of my own wounded need for security and predictability. How might I have stopped and listened to Fred’s unheard voice?

Pianist Daniel Barenboim, in the first of his 2006 Reith Lectures, said: “… the first note already determines the music itself, because it comes out of the silence that precedes it.” Barenboim was pianist in a performance of the “Quartet for the end of time,” which was written in 1941 by French composer Olivier Messiaen. When he wrote the Quartet, Messiaen was a prisoner in a Nazi concentration camp.

Barenboim plays the piano in the version of the Quartet accessed by clicking the link below, which goes to the fifth movement, “Praise to the Eternity of Jesus.”