Back in college I became interested in learning to play the Pipe Organ. I had heard the thunderous resonance of that instrument and knew I wanted to play it and make the whole building shake. I had not studied piano as a child and so was starting from scratch. But I hammered away at it day after day, learning not only the hands but to play with both feet as well. In a few years I was good enough that I went on to become the daily organist at the seminary where I attended. But the truth is I never had “the gift.” I am able to play hymns accurately but learning them is hard and I am never really at ease when I play. The more elaborate organ works of Bach I will likely never play or master. It’s OK, because I am glad for what I can do.
But I must say I have always been amazed when I encounter those who have the gift, those who can play almost without effort, those for who the music seems to come from within. When they play they are not merely playing notes accurately but the music comes from deep inside. It is almost innate. I have met and worked with many who have the gift. Some are able just to hear something once and play it back almost without flaw. Others sight read music with ease. Still others play not only one instrument but many. God just seems to put music and art inside of some people and no amount of explanation regarding how they’ve studied etc. can fully explain the gift they have received. Studies can help refine the gift but they cannot explain it.
I remember a young woman at my last parish, Charnetta. I could put music of almost any complexity in front of her and she’d play almost without flaw. She could also play by ear and shift from gospel to classical, to modern and back again. She played with such ease and though I knew she’d trained classically there was something on the inside, she just had the gift.
At my current parish is Kenneth who is also able to play almost anything. He reads music but can also play by ear. He tells me that when he was about five he heard his mother humming a hymn in the kitchen and then went to the piano and played it. At that moment they knew he had “the gift.” For him too, his playing seems effortless. I rarely hear him practice he just knows the music innately it seems. From classical to gospel, to soulful spirituals and back again. I admire many things about his playing but perhaps what I find most fascinating is the ease with which he transposes. He will play the opening hymn at the organ and gradually take us up the scale, never missing a note. Kenneth too spent many years studying music and has his Masters degree but in the end what he most has is the gift.
I remember attending piano recitals as a kid. Most of the kids who played were somewhere between dreadful and mediocre. But there were always one or two who sat down at the keyboard and you knew they were different. They had it inside, they had the gift.
It was the same with art. There were just some kids when I was growing up who knew how to draw. It was not that they had gone to art school, they just had the gift. I would marvel as they took a simple piece of paper and pencil and just went to work. And they did it with such ease, never erasing, never struggling, just drawing. And whether it was a simple cartoon, or something more detailed it was clear to me that they had something on the inside. I once asked a friend of mine named Ingo who had the gift to draw me a picture. “Of what?” he asked. “Oh I don’t know, maybe a farmer at his farm.” In less then five minutes he handed me a picture and it was good too! Ingo had the gift.
I guess the closest I can say that I come to having a gift is in the area of preaching and teaching. I love to do both and do them almost without effort. I never struggle with what to say, if anything it is what NOT to say since I go on too long. I often experience the gift most powerfully at 7:00 am weekday morning masses. I may be struggling to wake up, even dosing during the reading but when it comes time to preach I am suddenly awake and firing on all cylinders. And I know it isn’t me, its the Lord, it’s the gift. Sure enough when the homily is over I’m back to being sleepy and fumbling through the sacramentary as I drowsily look for the right page. (I’m not a morning person).
Don’t miss God’s gifts, in yourself or in others. And most often they can’t be explained in any other way. They are simply gifts. They are inside, deep in the soul. Years of study can help perfect them but the basic gift and ability seem to be right there from the start in those who have “the gift.” It is a uniquely human gift as well. Animals do not compose music or perform it, they do not sing, they do not paint or sculpt. Such gifts are uniquely human and part of our glory which God has bestowed. The gift and the glory are God’s but he has chosen to share them with some of us.
This video features a little girl named Emily who has the gift to play the piano. It was first noticed at age two. Emily, when asked how she can play so well says, “I don’t know, it just comes out of me.” — the Gift.
This video illustrates a young woman who received the gift to paint quite clearly from God. Even more beautifully she received the gift of faith as you will see.