Conversatio Divina

Part 16 of 16

Learning to Play the Jesus Way

Gary W. Moon

And holy obedience must walk in this world, not aloof and preoccupied,
 but stained with sorrow travail.

— Thomas R. Kelly

The Jesus Way conference was over, and I was relaxing with my wife at a riverside café in San Antonio. Being an introvert who had been awash with waves of people for three days, I just wanted a quiet place to dry out for a while before heading off to the airport.

But our tranquility was soon punctured by a mariachi band that began playing at a table nearby. We elevated the volume of our conversation, and I carefully avoided eye contact with the lead minstrel. The last thing I wanted at that moment was to be an audience of two for one of their loud songs.

The concert ended. The two musicians walked to our table. I looked away and then began a careful inspection of the condensation on my water glass.

“Do you want a song?”

“No,” I said, while turning my head to the man dressed like a bullfighter. “I appreciate the offer, but we just want this time alone.”

“Oh, I see,” the troubadour said with a smirk on his face and then propped his foot on the arm of an empty chair at our table.

“You see?” I said.

“Yes, I see that you are a jerk.” But he used a less polite term.

I looked up at the man as he continued to talk. He appeared to be about forty years old. He had thinning black hair and bloodshot eyes. As he continued with a stream of additional insults, I began to smell the beer on his breath and discern that he was at least three sheets and a pillowcase to the wind.

As his insults began to evolve from crude to lewd, my ears were surprised to hear my mouth saying, “You must be here for a reason. Sit down. Tell us your story; we’d be happy to listen.”

“You want to listen. You are listening. Are you deaf and dumb?”

I could tell he was pleased with his play on words. But I said, “No, I don’t mean that story. I mean the story about why you are so angry, why you are drunk before they’ve stopped serving breakfast here. That story.”

“You want to hear my story?”

Yeah, and then my wife—because she is better at it than I am—will pray for you. I think that’s why you came by. Sit down.”

I looked at my wife. She looked less surprised than I was feeling. I don’t think I’d ever said anything like that before in my life; I’ve always left that sort of thing for the extroverts.

“What’s your name?” “Miguel.”

“How many beers have you had today, Miguel?” “Hmm, twelve, maybe eighteen.”

“Wow. So what are you trying so hard to forget?”

For the next thirty minutes he told us just that. And along the way we learned how he was first introduced to music. As a small boy he would sit underneath the window of a neighbor’s house and listen as music from a piano poured out. Miguel spent so much time sitting underneath that window—lost in a new world of beauty—that his mother began packing him lunches of sweet bread and fruit. One day he mustered all the courage a seven-year-old could manage and knocked on the door. When the musician opened the door, Miguel offered the rest of his lunch for a piano lesson. A deal was struck; sweet breads for piano lessons. In the years that followed, Miguel learned to play the piano and many other instruments. He studied music in college and became a high-school music teacher.

But there were many more chapters in his book. He married and had a daughter. He joined the Army Reserve to have more money for his young family. But he got more than he bargained for and ended up serving in the first Gulf War. His father died while he was overseas. Important words were not spoken and were not heard. He killed a man in battle. He still sees his face every night when he tries to go to sleep. He began drinking heavily to cloud the image. He came home a different man. His wife left him, taking away his daughter, now sixteen. He sings every day for dollar bills that he exchanges for tall cans of beer. Every day is the same.

When he finished talking, my face was streaked with tears; so was my wife’s. When we finished praying, his cheeks looked like ours.

We talked for a while longer: about priests and confession, A.A. meetings and sobriety, his daughter and new beginnings. When I asked him if he thought tomorrow would be different for him, he said, “Yeah, I may do something I’ve been thinking about for a long time.”

“What’s that?”

“There’s a hospital nearby that has a wing for children who have cancer. I think I’ll go by and see if some of them want to hear me play. Maybe one will want to learn how to play.”

After a while Miguel got up and left, but not before insisting that I give his guitar a try. I knew something had really changed for him when he didn’t laugh as I tried to strum “House of the Rising Sun,” the only song I know.

Miguel left, and I turned to my wife. Smiles broke across both of our faces.

“Well that’s never happened before,” I finally said, a little embarrassed by the truth of the statement.

“Yes,” she said. “But I really like it. I’d like to live that way all the time.”

As Miguel disappeared down the sidewalk, I began to wonder. Why have there been so few experiences like that in my life, so few encounters when I knew beyond doubt that at least for a step or two I was on the Jesus Way? Had there been subliminal inspiration from the three days of teaching we had just heard—the articles you just finished reading? Maybe so, but it could be even simpler than that. For at least a little while, we had taken the time to sit beneath an open window of the Kingdom, blissfully aware of the beautiful music of God’s presence and his love for one of his children. And then we mustered the courage to ask him if we could play too.

Awareness. Willingness. Obedience. I want to try those three chords again.


Vice President and Chair of Integration at Richmont Graduate University, Gary W. Moon founded (with David Benner and Larry Crabb) Conversations Journal, directs the international Renovaré Institute for Christian Spiritual Formation and has authored several books, including his most recent, Apprenticeship With Jesus: Learning to Live like the Master (Baker).