Playing Freely

Playing Freely 150 150 Nathaniel Lee Hansen

Over these past months while you’ve been wielding a sledgehammer to smash the seven-story idol you made to Words of Affirmation (particularly in the context of playing in the worship band at your church), you’re aware that your piano playing and singing have been at a level you haven’t achieved for some time. You’re referring less to proficiency—although that’s there— and more to greater confidence. (Your vocal range isn’t what it was when you performed your senior vocal recital how long ago, but you’re fine with its changes. You’re accepting the aging process more and more.)

You know your parts, you know the songs, and you let yourself go. You play more fills. Not to show off, no. You play different parts, vary things, because what’s happening around you stirs you to do so. You have been taking chances, taking risks. You’re listening more closely to what everyone else is playing and singing, and considering more where and how your part(s) fit in. You’re listening more closely to the patterns the drummer plays; hearing eighth notes on the hi-hat, you play something to lock in. You are by nature risk-averse, so this freedom you allow yourself is liberating.

Even more important, you are realizing that you are but one of several people in this group of musicians and singers trying to create a worshipful atmosphere for everyone in the congregation. You’re gradually becoming less concerned with yourself as an individual and more concerned with everyone else. You are learning that the world doesn’t revolve around you, that you are most complete when you are in community with other followers of Christ, and especially in a setting where you are doing something you enjoy. You are by nature self-centered, so paying more attention to others is liberating.

It’s not that you didn’t know your part is but one part. It’s not that you haven’t had satisfaction playing music in other contexts—of course you have. It’s not even about the fact that the people with whom you play are simultaneously talented and humble—of course those are positives, yes. It’s about your mindset, your perspective, your healthier sense of self-worth.

You are delighting in doing something that sounds, that feels, so good. Exercising the gifts you’ve been given, sharing them, using them for the glory of God. You’re experience the joy that comes from doing what you were wired to do. There it is again, that word you find yourself using more and more in your vocabulary, a word that you rarely used to describe your attitude/mindset: joy.

You’re not big on the whole idea of a God who has a very specific plan for your life: the person to marry, the car to buy, the number of kids, etc. You have viewed the God’s will as best expressed in Micah 6:8: He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God?

Still, there is something in spending hours on Sunday mornings doing something that you are made for. You feel joy, yes, but also an overwhelming sense of thankfulness, of gratefulness. That your ten fingers can do what they do, that your voice can find a harmony to the melody, that your ears allow you to take in all that is happening around you, that you love and appreciate those around you.

Nathaniel Lee Hansen

I’m a poet, fiction writer, and essayist. My chapbook, Four Seasons West of the 95th Meridian, was published by Spoon River Poetry Press (2014). My work has appeared in Christianity and Literature, Prairie Gold: An Anthology of the American Heartland, Blast Furnace, Driftwood Press, Whitefish Review, The Cresset, Midwestern Gothic, and South Dakota Review, among others. I currently serve as an assistant professor of English & Creative Writing at the University of Mary Hardin-Baylor in Belton, Texas. I also edit Windhover: A Journal of Christian Literature and direct the annual Windhover Writers’ Festival. When not writing or teaching, I run, read, play piano, listen to music, and play disc golf. My greatest joys are my wife, my son, and my daughter. I was born in southern Minnesota, but while growing up, I had little interest in the Plains and opens spaces. A stint at a rural state liberal arts college in southwestern Minnesota, as well as grad-school stints in northwestern Minnesota and southeastern South Dakota, altered my interests. @plainswriter,, &

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