“The right word may be effective, but no word was ever as effective as a rightly timed pause.” — Mark Twain
Since my earliest days, music has gone straight to my heart. Operatic tenors and Scandinavian polkas, symphonies and synthesizers are thoroughly blended there with the decades-old Sabbath sounds of Del Delker, King’s Heralds and Take Three.
I have vivid visual memories of exuberant song leaders at church or camp meeting waving the congregation through the final few bars of “He Lives.” The rollicking tune leads to a climactic and extended exclamation: “He lives, He lives, salvation to impaaaaart. You ask me how I know He lives. He liiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiives, withiiin my heart.”
The final high note, of course, soars to a loftier altitude than some of us in the rumble zone can reach up there in the rarified air. But, no matter. We like the enthusiasm. And somehow, the superlative point matches the message perfectly. We may fail to reach the apex, but we’re still there in spirit, ready to jump back in singing “withiiin my heart” with gusto.
Expanded moments of magic like this sometimes surround a quirk of interpretation called a fermata. Musical scores require dynamic symbols to recapture the ebb and flow of expression. A fermata is a symbol often used to denote a sustained rest or note.
This musical pause is extended at the discretion of the conductor or leader. The pause can be brief or expansive, depending on the mood. Those who wish to stay in sync must keep their eyes trained on the one who holds the baton.
You may not be a musician, but no doubt you have experienced fermatas in your life journey. We all have. Life flows along at a seemingly unending pace, and then something exceptional, out-of-the-ordinary happens. Our carefully manicured schedule of expectations is put on hold.
It may be something incredibly exciting: an unexpected job opportunity, a financial windfall, a new relationship. You’re happy just to ride the wave of bountiful blessings, to let the good times roll just as long as possible.
But those we feel most keenly are the interruptions filled with grief or loss, uncertainty and pain. Those we would rather do without. When, we wonder, will this extended portion of the score last? “God,” we cry, “we’re running out of breath here!”
Yet under the master strokes of the heavenly Conductor, the fermatas of life become transformational. As in a musical score, they add texture, emotion and understanding to our journeys. In the rearview mirror of 20/20 hindsight, they may often be acknowledged as the seedbed of our greatest blessings.
If God has given you a song to sing, He will transform all the pauses, interruptions, gaps and glitches into an even more beautiful melody than you can imagine.
Sometimes the highest praise, the greatest joy, the best harmonies, come during the span of a fermata. The note may be a stretch. Your breath may nearly be exhausted. But if you keep your eyes on the Man with the baton, you'll eventually be enabled to lift up your voice and sing it out loud: “He liiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiives, withiiin my heart!”