Honouring the Full Catastrophe {The Grove: Discord}

Discord The Grove

You know that feeling, where your head and heart don’t align.

Where you know God is good, but…

When all you’ve been told, all that you know to be true no longer seems to… work.

For me, it feels like the clanging cymbals of life and faith in a messy, fallen world. Or, as a wise man once said, “the human story is dissonance (or worse).”

Isn’t that comforting?

A few years ago I went to a conference for “creatives in the church.” To say I was anxious about this little excursion would be an understatement. I’d never been to one such event before, never formally called myself a creative, and didn’t really know what to expect.

This conference was held in a megachurch in Dallas (as such things are) and I immediately knew upon arrival – when I glimpsed the baptismal font (nay, waterfall!) in the triple-height foyer – that I’d made a terrible mistake. After two years in Europe and then worshipping in a house church in the US, extreme cognitive and spiritual dissonance was the name of the game.

Then Andy Crouch – author, former managing editor of Christianity Today, and speaker of the aforementioned quote – took the stage for the keynote. Older than most of us in the room by at least a good decade or two, and bending to play a grand piano, Crouch didn’t seem to belong there, either.

But he wasn’t there to add to the flash; he was there to tell a story. About Ratatouille. Yes, that one—the animated film about a rat in Paris with an uncanny gift for culinary goodness. (You can see the entirety of Crouch’s talk here. He also sings a Tom Waits song. :))

As all the moms and dads in the room nodded in recognition (and the young hipsters shook their heads in confusion), Crouch used Ratatouille as the perfect example of a perfect story. The characters, the narrative arc in three acts, the despair, the redemption, the victory. This Pixar classic, said Crouch, had it all… and then he sat at the piano.

As the disgruntled daughter and piano lesson drop-out of a spectacularly gifted pianist, there is but one song I can still play with relative ease, and Crouch played that very song. Now his skills were tenfold what mine will ever be, but once I heard that first measure, I knew exactly where this story was going.

“Prelude 1 in C Major” from the Well-Tempered Clavier by Johann Sebastian Bach is a fairly simple tune, made up mostly of beautifully constructed chords, each note and key played separately, so that you know where the chord will end. The bass note sets the scene, allowing the chord to move freely but patiently. But then, a note sounds off. It’s not wrong, no. It’s exactly as written, and of course Bach knew what he was doing. He was adding complexity to the musical story, taking us “further and further into dissonance,” said Crouch, still playing.

As the melody sped up ever so slightly, and the base notes grew louder, the chord’s end became fraught, confused, melancholy.

Then suddenly, catastrophe. Discord.

One chord clangs so loudly that all hope of a beautiful resolution is lost. Crouch played on, telling us this – this – is the turning point of the story.

This discord, this catastrophe, is necessary – vital, even – to resolution, restoration, and redemption.

And sure enough, as the notes slowly resolved and the tension released, hope began to build. The chords grew lovelier, stronger, and then just as swiftly as they peaked, the music calmed and laid the story to rest.

The song ended more beautifully than it began.

I cried in that room of feathers and leather and dangling name badges. This is why God brought me here, to witness the catastrophe and to feel in my fingers and bones and heart and soul the hope of restoration.

I don’t need to tell you what you may have already sensed: my little family was in the middle of its own catastrophe. We were not sure we could even hope for restoration, a triumphant return. And that field trip to Texas was a calculated risk. For in that moment in time, I took a risk on myself, named my gifts, and chased down an idea, not knowing where it would take me.

At first, it looked daunting and fraudulent. But then God met me, a song He had given me resurfaced, a story I knew by heart (having been forced to binge-watch it a half dozen times with two pre-schoolers) offered a mystical, powerful spiritual insight, and the catastrophe – the discord – was acknowledged and honoured.

God knew.

And slowly, beautifully, mysteriously, He began to sow hope.

You may be in the catastrophe now, or odd clanging chords may signify its imminent arrival. Maybe your bass note (or inner base line) is sending out all the wrong signals, or you’ve lost hope for restoration. I’m here to tell you that God sits in that discord with you. He is finely tuning a new melody, one you may not yet be able to hear. But it’s there, and it’s growing stronger, and soon… Oh, maybe not as soon as we hope, maybe not here, maybe not now, but soon…

That discord will resolve, your song will return, and your story will find restoration.

We’re here to hope with you, for what comes after, for your song of redemption.

Where have you experienced the full catastrophe? And what did God do with it? If you’re still in it now, we’d love to pray for you!

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This is The Grove and we want to hear from you! You can link up your blog post, or share your practices, ponderings, wisdom, questions, ideas, and creative expressions with us in the comments below.

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7 Comments

  1. Addie February 8, 2018

    I needed to read this today. I’ve been in discord with where I’m at, and even though I know I am not lost to God, I feel lost in the world.

    Recently, I was invited to play Tchaikovsky’s Fourth with a symphony – it has been awhile since I’ve been in that setting, so I was a bit rusty and unsure of myself. But oh, the soul-wrenching beauty of the dissonances and building tension, and whirlwinds of “wrong” chords and the lines that just scream of pain and fury! I gave it everything I had, and then a thought entered my mind. It was as if God was showing me, “See, all of this tension you’re creating? The music can handle it. And so can I.” I need to remind myself that God knows our end is triumphant because He has finished the work at the cross already, so we can be relieved in knowing what we hope in is real and He doesn’t leave us in stuck places forever. (I’m still working on solidifying that part in my mind, but it’s relieving to type it out and see it!)

    1. Karen Huber February 9, 2018

      Thank you so much for your comment! I know exactly what you mean – the “soul wrenching beauty of dissonance.” So often that sound, idea, memory brings me to tears. And you’re right – to Him, the work is already finished. We just need to “see the song” through.

  2. Kathy Vaughan February 9, 2018

    I have been in that place of extreme discord, when the board of a ministry I had begun took a wrong direction that got bad enough that I knew I could not continue with them any longer. It was heart-wrenching to walk away from the ministry, and most especially the people that I was working with, and my country of service. It took some time, but God slowly revealed His plan to redeem, as He brought me back to my country of service in a new, different role where I daily see Him doing amazing things. I love what God has called me to! There is still great sadness over the direction of the old ministry, but I don’t live in that sadness. I live in the joy of knowing that God moved me to where He wanted to use me, and He, of course, knew what He was doing.

    1. Karen Huber February 9, 2018

      Oh Kathy, thank you for sharing part of your story. We’ve had a similar experience and know that grief and thanksgiving often go hand-in-hand. Praying God would one day release you of that sadness (and me!) as you continue to trust in Him!

  3. David Lewis February 9, 2018

    Excellent in the context of paradox – which we tend to want to see resolved. (And which seems to be the defining paradigm of missionary life.) But if it DOES seem to resolve itself in discord, this is a great perspective to have.

  4. Casual Friday Missionary Care Resources | Paracletos February 16, 2018

    […] We Americans (in particular) have a hard time with paradox. We like things to be resolved, to land on one side of the equation or the other. Missionary life rarely provides for that. Sometimes, however, the other shoe falls and discord is the result. Is that bad? You won’t think so after reading Karen Huber’s post. […]

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