I'm listening again to a favorite CD of Arvo Pärt's music, "In Principio," on the ECM Records label. I loved "Cecilia, vergine romana" and also "Mein Weg" ("my path"). The liner notes describe the latter piece: "The title was inspired by a short poem from 'Livre des Questions', the magnum opus of the poet Edmond Jabès ... My path has long hours,/jolts and pains./My path has peaks and sea-troughs,/sand and sky./Mine or thine... The image of life's portentous sea-troughs seems to have found an echo in the work's compositional fabric with its constant, dynamically differentiated upward and downward motion."
I love that! Aren't the paths of life--including the spiritual path--filled with ups and downs, steps forward and back? I think of Psalm 121, where the poet expresses concern about the journey and its hazards, but the Lord is God of our journeys.
I made a mental, thematic connection between Pärt's minimalistic piece from 1989 and a different kind of piece, from 1724. My daughter's choir used to perform Bach's "Wir eilen mit schwachen" from Cantata 78, "Jesu, der du meine Seele."
Wir eilen mit schwachen, doch emsigen Schritten, O Jesu, o Meister, zu helfen zu dir! Du suchest die Kranken und Irrenden treulich. Ach, höre, wie wir die Stimme erheben, um Hilfe zu bitten! Es sei uns dein gnädiges Antlitz erfreulich!
We hasten with feeble, yet eager footsteps, Oh Jesus, Oh Master, to seek after your help! You tirelessly seek out the sick and those who have gone astray. Oh, hear us, as we, our voices raised, pray for your help! May your merciful countenance be gracious unto us!
The choir director noted that the melody is springy, to connote eagerness, but the continuo plods, connoting feeble steps that require divine help.
There is always room for effective challenging of people's Christian walk. On the other hand, we should accept the reality of "jolts and pains, peaks and sea-troughs" as necessary and inevitable aspects of spiritual growth. Accepting that reality, we can shift the focus from our own progress to God's tireless work and, paradoxically, thereby make better progress.