Prayer – when I stare at the keyboard instead of listening for the music…


The Spirit and the bride say, “Come.” Let anyone who hears this say, “Come.” Let anyone who is thirsty come. Let anyone who desires drink freely from the water of life. – Revelation 22:17

So, I’m not a real piano player; I have tinkered around with the keyboard a little in the past – but really nothing recently. Fact is it’s been years since I played much at all.

But yesterday evening, needing a break from working on my new book and unwilling to watch TV, I opened our 1979 Baldwin studio upright and started to play. That’s when a couple of haphazard notes reminded me of a haunting arrangement to “When I Survey the Wondrous Cross” that I’d played quite well 30 years ago, and I wanted to hear it again.

Try as I might, I couldn’t find the right places for my fingers to produce the nuanced, slightly bluesy chords I was looking for. In fact, the longer I stared at the keys and the harder I tried, the less tuneful was the result.

IMG_1745Eventually, I hummed the tune quietly, closed my eyes, and began to feel my way through the music without looking, or thinking too much, and certainly not trying overtly hard. And, in a beautiful miracle of synchronicity, my fingers began to find their way to the right keys and – little by little – I reconstructed the song.

When I opened my eyes to peek, the music was lost again, and so I repeated the exercise – with eyes tightly shut and heart wide open – two or three more times until the arrangement completely reconstructed itself. It was only then that I could safely open my eyes, and see where my hands were going; and only then that I could begin to ornament the tune with a few more accidentals, but not too much, because the beauty of this arrangement is in the subtlety, the feel, the only hinted at understated tones.

The root tune is the old folk melody most of us know as “The Water is Wide.” But it’s always been my favorite accompaniment for “When I Survey the Wondrous Cross…”

PRAYER: Later in the evening, walking Scout Labradoodle in the warm, humid summer air, I thought about the way I approach God in prayer. Too often I work hard to “make” the connection, to “orchestrate” the tune I want us to sing together, to remember what it was like the last time prayer was meaningful, striving to replicate the experience, to stare at the keyboard when I should instead be listening for the music; and so I often strike chords that sound false, and out of tune. I have determined to pray more with my heart, to have my sense of control closed shut and my spirit wide open.

I have determined to pray more with my heart, to have my sense of control closed shut and my spirit wide open.

Derek Maul
Derek Maul

Prayer is a kind of music, an exercise in setting our spirits in rhythm with the sacred, an immersion into faith at the expense of our own control, an experience that is always just out of our reach, but well within the reach of God’s welcoming Spirit.

I need to be there more often; immersed in God, listening for the nuanced, slightly bluesy chords we are all looking for.



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