Each week I teach guitar to roughly 50 individuals between the ages of 10 and 60. For many of them this is a new adventure, and after a few weeks I can really tell who is playing regularly and who is winging it once a week in my presence. I know they are playing because their fingers always hurt. I see them occasionally take their left hands from the neck of their instruments and shake them out, like they are trying to flick away the tension. They ask me when the pain will dissipate.
The very first lesson I teach all my students is to understand their instrument, how to tune it, and how to use it properly and respectfully. Basically, we use our left hands to grip the neck of the guitar and press those thin strings against the fretboard with our fingertips, shortening the length of the string, which creates certain notes when we pluck or strum. I won’t go much deeper into the physics of it, except to say that it is the grip on this instrument that makes the music.
“First, make sure your instrument has integrity, that it is made correctly to do what it’s supposed to do.
Second, make sure the strings are in tune.
Third, follow the chord pattern with your fingertips, do you have your fingers on the right string and the right fret?
Now PUSH! Your hand is a clamp. Act like you mean it! (It’s going to hurt.)
Play each individual string in your chord, and if the note is dull, or buzzes, or sounds like the wrong note, check your finger positioning then check your grip. Push harder, and cleaner, and stay away from strings you are not supposed to be hitting.”
For over ten years I have taught this on a weekly basis.
It was true ten years ago, and it remains true today.
I broke my left arm when I was seven. And, when I was nine. And again, when I was ten. To this day my left wrist is thinner than my right, because it spent so much time in a cast. (I should have casted my waist.) Because my broken elbow was set wrong as a seven-year-old, I have a distorted joint through which ligaments must pass. Through the years, cartilage has broken off now and then, freezing up my arm. My left hand, because of the distorted growth, is naturally weakened. One doctor told me that I should not even be able to use that arm, according to my x-ray. But I play guitar nearly every day. Truth is, I think I can use that arm because I play guitar nearly every day. The daily exercise of gripping the neck of my instrument, and sustaining that grip, has strengthened me where I had not supposed I would need strength.
That same girl who broke her arm three times tries other things, and ends up broken. I am as human as they come. I get in trouble when I forget that. I mix things up in my head and end up in trouble. I ponder too deeply on some matters, and forget to consider other more important things, so that portions of my spirit have grown distorted, like my elbow, though no one can tell cuz they can’t see under my skin. Even I can’t see under my skin, and it took a physician to help me understand myself.
I confuse faith and knowledge, for instance. I suppose that faith should be as absolute as knowledge, and right now, for me it isn’t. Actually, if I understand it correctly, faith is not to have a sure knowledge of something. Otherwise it would be… well, knowledge. But for a Mormon girl who grew up listening to people claiming from the pulpit that they “know this church is true”, there is naturally a bit of confusion on the matter. If I want to belong, then I need to know. But the truth is, we are not supposed to know. We are supposed to have faith, to believe in something which is unseen, but which is true. That part- “which is true” - is really important.
I can say, for instance, that I have faith that I am supposed to be a goat. I can act like a goat, eat like a goat, speak like a goat, even wear goat skins. But because it is not true, it’s just not gonna fly.
And now as I said concerning faith—faith is not to have a perfect knowledge of things; therefore if ye have faith ye hope for things which are not seen, which are true.
I am thinking lately that I’ve not given enough emotional weight to the potential of human beings to receive revelation for themselves. I mean, the truth is that God Himself assigned one of the three most important leaders of the eternities, a member of the Godhead, to work with each one of us on a daily basis. Like our own personal spiritual tutor, available 24/7 if we want. That is serious stuff!
He’s the keeper of my Faith-O-Meter, the one who knows all and can tell all, on some level, if it is important for me to know. Only problem is, I think it’s important for me to know certain things, and He thinks maybe it’s not time for me to know certain things. I forget to trust that He knows the me that is a million years older than I am now. I don’t remember that “me”. I get impatient, and want to know right this very minute why it is that some people have sexual desires for their own gender, why it is that people think it is righteous to kill other people in the name of God, why some spirits are born to bodies that are profoundly impaired, why some spirits come to bodies in war torn Syria, and others are born to starving mothers in hot desert places, and others are born to thick warm loving arms in the land of the free and the home of the brave. I can get so confused by all of this that I forget to hold my grip, and my hands become weak, and I am prone to let go, instead of asking for help holding on.
Jesus went along being quiet when he knew, deep in his perfect heart, that he held the whole truth and nothing but the truth. That must have driven him crazy, knowing so much and having to hold it in. So, when it finally came time to let the truth out, it must have been a great joy and sorrow. The release of that truth would lead to his own death.
It started with his calling himself the bread of life. Feeble minds, like mine, interpreted that to mean crazy stuff, thinking that he was cannibalistic. People took things rather literally in those days. Disciples, aka. his followers, started pulling away; loosening their grip, and eventually leaving him. Christ turned to his apostles and said:
“Will ye also leave me?”
“To whom would we go?”
This new stuff, this more difficult “doctrine” that was coming out, was hard. No wonder former believers left. But when one has given his heart to something, it is not easily removed. So it was with the apostles, who had covenanted to remain with Jesus.
I too, covenanted to remain. And deep down, where the basics of my being lie, I must ask deeper questions that require me to dig deeper than my knee jerk responses want me to go. I mean, really, I understand people leaving the church because they simply cannot reconcile the doctrine of love with the doctrine of procreation and the doctrine that disallows same sex marriage. It is so confusing, and it makes my head hurt, and more so, it makes my heart hurt.
I keep returning to Love. And there I keep my heart, even when my head is swirling.
I am in the boat with Jesus, and there is surely a storm brewing all around us. I say to the others; “Someone go wake Jesus, cuz we’re going to sink!” I think to myself “I wonder if it’s better to jump ship now, before the storm gets any bigger?” And yet, something in me, probably that guy assigned to help me 24/7, whispers, “Find the mast and hold your grip. He is with us, and we will not sink. But hold on, because it’s going to be a rocky ride.”
Sometimes my spirit hurts from the gripping, like the fingers of my beginner guitar students. I tell them that it will get better. Don't give up! Be sure your instrument has integrity, that it is true and has good straight and trustworthy neck. Be sure it is in tune. Follow the patterns designed to create good chords. Lay your hands in the right place and then clamp down like your life depends on it! Hold your grip, then go ahead and pull those strings. That’s where the music is hidden. And it’s glorious!