Bach and the Joy of Work

I am already out of town by the time I realize what music my sister is playing as she drives me. James Ehnes is performing the final movement of Bach’s Sonata No. 3 in C for Solo Violin and the notes come fast.  They tumble and tangle, cascading into breathless arpeggios. Rolling and echoing, distinct and quick, they are like the details of a complex mosaic. I could stare at the details, marvel only at their perfection, and miss the greater masterpiece that they bear witness to. And what a masterpiece! Listening to the intricate arpeggios is like ridding a strong and sensitive stallion up a mountain, or directing a sailboat into crest after crest of wave, water, and wind. This music should peak, I think. There is no way it could reach a pinnacle higher than the one it just reached. But then it does and I am overcome with joy.

I’m simply listening and yet I’m experiencing such pleasure. I am not playing this music, mastering it, coaxing it off the written page and into reality. Nor am I Bach writing this music, taking simple chords, scales, and turning them into something new.

And yet a trace of joy that is chipped from the same vein is witnessed when I am doing my work well. When I am using my skills, my knowledge, my personality, and my abilities to help someone, it is like every string in my instrument is tuned to the perfect pitch, making music. What satisfaction and what pleasure! I experience it too in hobbies; the rare occasions that my film review clicks into place and explains a truth, or when the composition and lighting of my photograph have gathered together to convey a visual idea.

When I do this I worship; I glorify God to the best of my abilities, using his gifts to their fullness in order to accomplish what he has set before me. As Dorothy Sayers wrote, “Work is not, primarily, a thing one does to live, but the thing one lives to do. It is, or should be, the full expression of the worker’s faculties… the medium in which he offers himself to God.” Or in the more blunt terms of Eric Liddle: “'God made me fast. And when I run, I feel His pleasure.”

But how rare are these moments! So often I come close to that satisfaction, yet miss it, brushing past its greatness instead of meeting it head on. Something gets in the way. Often it is my own inadequacies and my self-centredness. Sometimes it is someone else’s failures. Maybe I get bored, tired or lazy. Oh the frustration of corruptly bearing God’s image amongst his tainted world!

Now think; if work is worship, what than should we expect from our worship in Heaven?  What would be possible without the limits of our own finitude, our own and others sinfulness, and the fallenness of our earth? With God Himself before us and in our midst, think of the masterpieces I will photograph, the endless beauty and complexity of the films we will create (and review), the redeemed people we will call our colleagues, and the music that Bach and his friends will compose and perform. All for the pleasure of our King!

For this King is making all things new. And I am called to join him. Until that day when my sinfulness and this world’s fallenness is eradicated, may the hope and reality of his redemption have me return to this fallen ground, spade in hand, tilling for my Master.

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