Practice, Excellence, and Wild Abandon

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They entered from the back and walked the length of the two aisles, he with the suona (Chinese horn) and she with the gaita (Galician bagpipes). She passed closest to me, swishing in her full, gold skirt with the gaita beneath her left arm. The tassles and fringe on the instrument swung with her movement, and the notes clung to the air. I’ve never heard music expressed quite like these ancient instruments performing modern arrangements.

The entire night at the symphony with Yo-Yo Ma and the Silk Road Ensemble was a revelation. I don’t know that I’ve seen artistic joy quite like it. The musicians played with such spirited enjoyment, it looked like wild abandon. It seemed like abandon too, but I know this is rarely the case with artists. They practice and practice until the notes becomes second nature, until what appears to be abandon is actually brought to life by full-on preparation.

After the concert, I replayed the musician’s movements in my mind, and I watched again how they became one with the music. I couldn’t help but think of all their collective hours of practice. The long days where fingers hurt and lungs grew weary. Where tempers flared and eyes grew heavy with exhaustion. The days when all the notes swum together.

I thought of their joy at playing just the right notes strung together, and what it takes for them to arrive at that level of perfection. The road to excellence is paved with long, hard days of repetition. Genius is born in the tedium of countless hours and days and years of practice.

I’m no genius, but I want to strive for excellence in my life. For me this looks like sitting down to write in the green chair everyday, or lacing up my running shoes and facing the dark chill of the basement. It’s renewing my wedding vows every morning, and keeping the “I promise to…” regardless of what cockamamie argument we had the previous evening. I can hardly think of what this means for my parenting. I suppose the practice is one of showing up–for middle of the night fevers and weekday frustrations and weekend heartbreaks–although a mother always prays there won’t be any.

As a Christian, I know what the hard work of practice means for my faith. It means taking up my cross daily for the glory and joy ahead. But, my eyes grow heavy from straining to see the world as it is, when I know how it should be. This is the hardest discipline of them all, I think. Most of the practice occurs in the invisible interior, whereas much of life clamors for chronos time and the physical, high-touch, hands-on practice of the exterior. I’m not very good at marrying the two by creating a physical space and practice for spirituality, focusing much more heavily on the inner workings of Christ in me.

I want all of my life’s work to create a sound that clings to the air from the instrument I carry, and I want to love the road to excellence. I want to learn to practice both the interior and the exterior work until it looks like absolute joy, like wild abandon.


How do you practice faith in the physical or exterior? What does excellence look like for you, in any particular area of your life?

*Painting above by artist Dale O. Roberts