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Devotion: Slowing Down

This devotion was shared by NLC alto Colleen Schaefle prior to rehearsal on October 7, 2014. 

As some of you know, I’m an elementary music teacher, so I spend my day with little cherubs between the ages of 6 and 11. If you work with kids, you know that sometimes there are warm, wonderful, inspiring moments when you feel like you are the ultimate caregiver for literally every child on this planet, and other moments when you wonder what it’s like to have a job with all grown-ups, and where you don’t hear “booger,” “fart,” or “I’m telling!” nearly so often.

What I’ve discovered so far working with kids is the most inspiring - or at least thought-provoking - moments aren’t the warm fuzzies. I find the most significance in the moments that make me say “Um...what...I don’t...even...what?” or make me want to turn around and bang my head on the whiteboard (which I have actually done in class).  I’ve had two school stories percolating in my head for a little while that I wanted to share. It’s like I tell my kids: “I’ve got a little story for you.” Here we go...

During this past school year, I taught in a portable classroom, which was essentially a dumpy little hut off to the side of the main building. My students had to walk outside and brave the elements for a bit on their way to music. I can’t remember exactly when this was, but I do remember one particular first grade class coming in during a snowstorm. I stood by the door greeting my class, and every single first grader looked at me with these wide, excited eyes and said, “Ms. Schaefle! It’s SNOWING!” Like it was some huge event. Now, first of all, this wasn’t even the first snow of the year. Snow was not news at this point. Secondly, it’s really hard to slap a cheery smile on my face and say, “Really? How amazing!” 20 times in a row like noticing the snow is an original thought or something. However, when I had a chance to slow down later and look at the snow, it was pretty remarkable. Once I slowed down enough to get past the thoughts of “I’ll have to scrape this off my car. AGAIN,” I started noticing the patterns of the new snow mingling with the grey, older snow, which is actually quite beautiful if you take the time to look at it. I noticed the serenity of standing outside amidst thousands of little bits falling from the sky, but it being totally silent. My wide-eyed little first graders were a reminder to stop barreling through my life and take the time to actually look at where I was. It was a reminder that this moment has never happened and will never happen again. Slow down. Pay attention.

Moving forward to this year, I’ve had some thoughts involving us grown-ups. Part of my teaching position involves traveling to another elementary school to pick up a few sections of music. I’m only there for lunch one day a week, so I’ll just add myself on to a different conversation in the teacher’s lounge each week. I’m noticing a pattern. It doesn’t matter who I sit with-- the conversation always revolves around how the generation of the speaker had the last really great childhood, and life as we know it now essentially stinks. I struggle with this mindset, and it took me a little while to figure out why. I finally realized that when I move fast all the time, I only notice the negative things. They’re just what is easier to see when we go rocketing through our days. If I were to slow down and assess my life right now, I would definitely see things that are frustrating, upsetting and even painful, but I would also see things that aren’t so bad, and some things that are downright joyful.  Is life as we know it really all that terrible when we slow down and actually pay attention?

These stories share a common idea-- slowing down. I don’t presume at all to be someone standing before you with it all figured out. I move too fast, I stumble, I get overwhelmed by the big, scary, dark things that seem so much closer when we move quickly. I’m encouraging myself and all of us to take the time to actually pay attention to what is right in front of us. Not just in life-- in music as well. The more times we rehearse something, the closer we get to a performance, the easier it is for our minds to go on autopilot during rehearsal and zoom ahead to the next morning, the next week, the next...whatever. I wish it was this time. I wish this thing was done already. When we mentally leave this moment, the music suffers.  I’m definitely guilty of this myself, but when I make myself slow down and wake up to the moment, I notice some delightful musical turn I’ve never noticed before. Every single time. It’s just like the first graders and the snow. Every time we open up our music, we need to mentally pause our high-speed lives and approach the moment with the wide-open eyes of a little kid. Many of us have been pulling from The Present Tense: “Thank you that now is the time of our lives.” This life and this music are astonishingly wonderful, if we just slow down enough to be awake in the moment.