Newness and Difference
The first time I encountered the music of Olivier Messiaen, I was a junior in high school. I vividly remember the odd colors of sound coming from the organ in the strangest, most otherworldly combinations using rhythmic patterns I had never encountered, if one could even call them patterns. I remember the thought going through my head that it sounded like someone's pet was randomly stepping on notes on the keyboards. I was horrified. However, years later, Messiaen is one of my favorite composers. The shock of hearing something I was not expecting left me with a negative outlook that colored how I saw the new experience. I decided to give his music a second try, and I discovered that his music is not about notes; it is about creating an atmosphere of color and suspense in which you can let yourself go and allow the experience to envelop you.
Experiences in everyday life often hit us the same way. When we are not expecting something or we get thrown off-course from our plans, we often look to what is familiar and compare. Unfortunately, this can lead us to miss the beauty of newness and difference. Especially this time of year, we often experience new things: kids are starting a new year of school, young adults start college, often in a completely new location, new people join staffs of organizations, and we encounter new people we have never met or who may be very different from us. When these new experiences confront us, do we meet them with expectation, openness, or trepidation? Sometimes we simply experience shock. However, we can always rest assured in the hope God offers.
After all, new experiences can lead to wonderful places. Beethoven's audiences were shocked by his music, especially when he included a choir in his Ninth Symphony, creating a tune we sing today as the hymn, "Joyful, Joyful We Adore Thee." Scholars and theologians were shocked when Copernicus and Galileo suggested the earth might not be the center of the universe, and now we know more about the wonders of the universe that God created than we could ever have imagined. Michelangelo was almost certainly shocked when he was commissioned to paint frescoes in the Sistine Chapel when he, as a sculptor, had never painted a fresco in his life. In our everyday lives, let us remember God's promises to be with us through our new experiences and be open to see what we can learn and how we can grow. After all, everything we think of as familiar now was once something new.