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Along with the normal work-related things in January, I am also doing some music writing/composing. One thing I strive for, in the music I am writing, is to “establish a pattern” (drawing the listener’s ear into a comfort zone) and then break that pattern (keeping the listener’s ear interested and wanting more). Breaking the pattern is sometimes good (getting the listener to notice things) and sometimes it isn’t (causing confusion and leaving the listener lost). Too much “pattern” and the listener stops listening. Too much breaking of the pattern and the listener is frustrated…and stops listening. 

It’s sometimes that way with life. We all have our “favorite burner” on the stove, our “favorite seat” in church, or “favorite side of the sanctuary to sit in”.  We have patterns and habits that we have established for ourselves, and sometimes we go through those patterns mindlessly unless something changes. The danger of “religion” is the setting of patterns without the “breaking” of patterns every-once-in-a-while. Tradition/Ritual/Patterns are comforting. They can also lull us to mindless action. 

In that context, I’m noticing my mind waking up a bit this month. I’m having to establish new patterns (or break the usual ones, depending on how you see it) as I work in a different place, eat in different places than usual, and even worship in a different place, (one where I am a visitor and not the Pastor). Every once in a while I need to be jolted out of the pattern I have set, so that I see things differently.

This last Sunday was away from Central and at my Florida congregation. I didn’t arrive early to open doors, turn on lights, and pray a “Prayer Circle” around the sanctuary (as is my habit/pattern every other Sunday morning). No, this Sunday I arrived just in time to hear the Prelude. Usually (for some unknown reason locked in my DNA) I will sit in the back of the left section of any theatre, church service, or gathering. Again, I’m not sure why, but I’ve always done that. THIS Sunday I thought to myself, “my right eye is half blind, and I have hearing loss in my right ear – so why am I sitting on the left…I should sit on the right.” There were also no openings in the back of the sanctuary, where I would’ve preferred, so I sat in the middle of the room.

A remarkable, and simple, thing happened – I saw and heard more than I usually would. Now, I can hear you say “Of course you did, your left eye and ear can see and hear better than your right.” But I had never thought of that, I had simply done what I always do, despite the fact it made less sense.

And there is a lesson in life as well as composing. Break the pattern for a reason, don’t just break a pattern for the sake of change. When I stopped and THOUGHT about my usual method of “choosing where I would sit in a sanctuary” I realized that part of what I did didn’t fit with who I am NOW. Suddenly I saw and heard from a different angle, literally. And it was better.

“Old habits die hard.” As Benjamin Franklin penned (although the phrase may have been older than him). And sometimes habits, as comfortable as they are, keep us from seeing and hearing things as we should.

There is a danger in too much of the usual pattern as much as there is a danger with too much change. There needs to be a balance. Just as a composer needs to capture the ear with a balance of “pattern” and “breaking of pattern” to keep the listener progressing through the song – our lives need a good balance of “pattern” and “surprise”.

Jesus had “habits”; He rose early to get away from it all and seek quiet time with His Father. He taught in “patterns” so the disciples and the people would listen and be comfortable. But He also left Himself open to every moment and person that presented themselves to Him – never allowing His established “routine/pattern” take precedent over “the moment”. Remember, it was when He was on His way to raise Jairus’ daughter that the woman touched the fringe of His prayer shawl – that was the “breaking of a pattern” for both her AND Him.

There are some patterns we need to establish; not only finding time with God alone, but directing ALL of our inner dialogue/thoughts to Him. We should establish a regularity of giving; ourselves, our time, our gifts, and yes, our money. But like Jesus, we need to be aware that the comfort of our established habits and patterns can lull us into mindlessness, and we should be open at all times for what the Spirit presents us with – “…every moment has its time, every person has their place…”

And so for me, at least here in Florida, I am now sitting on the right-hand side of the sanctuary – basking in a more clear-sighted view, and a fuller sound that comes from “changing a pattern” every-once-in-a-while.