At age 51, Noah Adams, a host on National Public Radio, abruptly decided he had to have a piano so he invested in a new Steinway upright – a financial commitment that provided extra incentive to practice.
Adams tells this delightful story of his first year of learning to play the piano in his book, Piano Lessons. Yet learning to play was a daunting task, particularly given his already demanding schedule. He found it difficult and frustrating; he couldn’t simply sit down and make the beautiful music he wanted. There were scales to learn, and basic rhythms to be mastered. Initially, he decided against going to a teacher, trying such shortcuts as a “Miracle Piano Teaching System” on the computer. A friend’s warning proved to be prophetic: “You might be learning music with that computer, but you’re not learning how to play.”
Eventually, Adams signed up for an intensive ten-day music camp. He discovered that there is no substitute for regular, disciplined practice and the tutelage of teachers. By the end of the first year, his frustrations began to recede. He actually desired time for practice. He had become initiated into the art of piano playing. He also learned to appreciate the craft of making and caring for pianos, as well as the importance of the history of pianos and great pianists – classical, jazz, blues, even rock-and-roll.
Just as Adams decided to take up the piano as an adult, so many adults these days are deciding to seek out the church. Some had childhood lessons in being a Christian, but left the church for many years.
Others taking up the church have had very little exposure to the Christian faith, searching, sometimes unaware of what exactly they are hoping to find. Add to this mixture of folks looking into taking lessons in being Christian are young people and teenagers plus the many of us who have been in church for a number of years but are still asking questions and seeking answers; still taking lessons, in other words. Indeed the journey of being Christian never ends.
One temptation is to look for shortcuts, a “Miracle Christian Teaching System” on a computer. Or we look to the equivalent of the Cliff Notes of following Jesus or perhaps the movie version. Being good consumers we’re always looking for the quick answer, the instant result, delivered fast, efficiently and inspirationally, so if we can find a church that delivers Jesus in fast-food doses then all the better.
However, there is no substitute for the slow, sometimes painful growth that comes through disciplined habits of practice shaped by the crucified and risen Christ. One does not become an excellent piano player, painter, dancer, carpenter, or baseball player overnight; neither does one learn to become a Christian overnight. We can’t know Jesus, the Incarnate Son of God, in five quick easy lessons accompanied by an inspirational DVD. One needs teachers and mentors and a community of friends, and one needs to practice over a long period of time.
The first words spoken by Jesus in the gospel according to John are, “What are you looking for?” He is talking to two disciples of John the Baptist. And they respond in what sounds like a strange way,
“Teacher, where are you staying?”
What they are looking for, what they seek, is not so much the information of the teacher, otherwise Jesus could have handed them his book or directed them to his website. No, they want to know him.
The word we translate as “staying” refers to the source of one’s life and meaning. So when these two disciples ask Jesus, “Where are you staying?” they are asking, “What is it that sustains you? What power do you have? Where do you remain? Where do you live? How do you live? Who are you really?” It’s the same word used in John later, over in chapter 15, when we are told we are to abide in Christ. Abiding, staying, remaining, residing, dwelling – they all take time.
Jesus says encouragingly, “Come and see.” Then John tells us, “They came and saw where he was staying, and they remained with him that day.” Here, in a simple and understated way, John gives us the essence of Christian discipleship. Discipleship is not primarily getting information or receiving the “right” answer; it is moving into the “house” with Jesus. It is living with Jesus Christ. And to live with Jesus takes time and community.
Emily Dickinson wrote, “Tell all the Truth but tell it slant- /… The Truth must dazzle gradually/ Or every man be blind.” There are some things, and Truth is one of them, that can be understood rightly only if we understand them over time. The very essence of Truth is that it can only be known slowly, in bits and pieces that are chewed on, meditated on, reflected over, talked about, practiced and then practiced some more with others living with the same Truth.
Gradually, as we come to know the Truth of Jesus Christ, we may be dazzled.