Does your faith need a little more rubato and a little less strictness?
All of us—and most all of creation—are designed in such a way that we have a solid framework of something behind us, just like a soft sofa must have an unseen frame or a tall building must have a steel skeleton inside. The question is whether that framework has any room to bend.
This came home to me on a recent evening while listening to the magnificent Dallas Symphony Orchestra. A Latin-inspired piece had been introduced at a steady beat. But suddenly a percussionist broke in with an entirely new syncopation. And although quite different than the established sound, this new beat didn’t mess up the overall beat. The mixture of instruments somehow worked together.
The reason, of course, is that both lines of music adhered to a fundamental beat that undergirded the entire piece. The new line involved more notes, faster notes, different patterns, but it still lay atop the broader underlying beat.
This same principle applies to visual art. Behind every magazine or newspaper page you see is a design grid you don’t see. Even though some pages may appear in four columns of typography and others in two columns, both hang on a shared grid that brings cohesion to what you see. The same is true even with photography or paintings. Behind what appears to be a freeform visual are fundamental principles such as the rule of thirds.
In another light, my colleague Doug Haney explains that the musical term rubato actually means “stolen time.” When a piece of music is marked as rubato, it means the individual or group playing may deviate for a moment from the given tempo of the score. But rubato assumes the players understand the basic framework of the piece enough to deviate from it momentarily and still be able to return to it.
And so it is that the most interesting lives are those that keep to a fundamental beat but leave room for beautiful embellishment. That is to say, people who build up a highly restrictive ideology may stand firm, but they’ll also be too rigid to make beautiful music. But neither does living creatively require having no grid, no rules, no ideals. The trick, it seems, is to have just enough structure to ensure cohesion but not so much as to rule out improvisation.
At the symphony, we also heard Rachmaninoff’s famous “Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini.” We watched the fingers of the guest pianist fly across the keyboard, notes zooming by at a frantic pace. And yet, the pianist never lost the underlying beat that kept him with the orchestra. They worked on the canvas of a common grid.
So what’s the grid upon which your life is built? Have you structured your belief system, your ideology so tightly that no one else can play along with you? Have you left yourself any room to dance to the music of creation?
In Christianity, we call this leaving room for the work of the Spirit. Leave room for some rubato, and let your life sing.