TOBI BENTON

Numbers

Numbers

Numbers

I picked up the flute when I was 9 years old and in many ways fell in love with my first child.  Years of practicing how we fit together, resting on my chin, fingers held in just the right position, my flute is an extension of me.

I have known the sweet smell of babies nestled beneath my chin, toddler tow-heads pressed beneath my lips, and children grown tall and wild, with the perfect hollow for a mother’s tip-toe kiss just beneath their jaw.  A kiss that remembers I am Mom.  All of these ways of mothering, practiced through the days, the moments, the years.  Practiced long enough to simply be lived.  Husband, children, this family an extension of me.

I have marched love down the aisle at weddings and remembered with requiem when love has passed out of our grasp.  Symphony, Quintet, Wind Ensemble, flute and harp, flute and guitar, flute and voice ~  so many communities I have made music with.

I know much about life because of the lessons I have learned with music.

To make music I must practice by myself.  I must do this hard work alone.  Talent is the tip of the iceberg, practice the mass beneath the surface which sustains it.  I wonder how many hours I have logged, tucked behind a practice room door working one measure over and over, setting goals of five perfect run-throughs and beginning at one again when I made a mistake.  Maybe eight notes, sometimes only three or four of those, over and over until my fingers just knew.  Just knew what to do and when to move.  Accuracy became fluid and technique became music and music sought community, for together we were created to sing of life to the heavens.

To make music I must practice with others.  Each of us has a song that is colored and magnified, the rich depths explored when lifted together with others.  To bring different voices together takes so much more than knowing your part.  The real key is developing an ear for everyone else and fitting your voice into theirs, neither above nor below, but with perfect harmony, intonation, and balance.  This, this is the reason for hours of ensemble practice.  And primarily, it is a practice in humility.  A whole community learning to bend and sway with the same rhythmic winds, as unified as the beating heart and rising lungs share one body.

To make music I must share it.  Music only reaches its fullness when experienced with others.  We are creatures of sound, our souls birthed with memory of a Creator who sang us into being.  Watch a toddler move to the beat, a man swipe tears from his eyes when dancing with his daughter, the bride, and we know.  We live more of life in restraint against the song our soul threatens to release from our tight throats.  We were made to sing.

I read the book of Numbers in one sitting today.  And thought of music.  Crazy, I know.

When the Cloud lifted above the Tent, the People of Israel marched out; and when the Cloud descended the people camped.  The People of Israel marched at God’s command and they camped at his command.  As long as the Cloud was over the Dwelling, they camped.  Even when the Cloud hovered over The Dwelling for many days, they honored God’s command and wouldn’t march.  They stayed in camp, obedient to God’s command, as long as the Cloud was over The Dwelling, but the moment God issued orders they marched.  If the Clould stayed only from sunset to daybreak and then lifted at daybreak, they marched.  Night or day, it made no difference – when the Cloud lifted, they marched.  It made no difference whether the Cloud hovered over The Dwelling for two days or a month or a year, as long as the Cloud was there, they were there.  And when the Cloud went up, they got up and marched.  They camped at God’s command and they marched at God’s command.  They lived obediently by God’s orders as delivered by Moses.     Numbers 9:17-23, The Message

I wrote this in my journal after this reading.  “What a pain – setting up and tearing down the Tabernacle.  Moving out when God did, camping when He stopped.  Oh what an opportunity for grumbling!!”  Of course Chapter 11:1 begins, “The people fell to grumbling over their hard life.”

You might want to spend a day in Numbers, but the short story is that the Tabernacle was HUGE and the requirements for moving each item specified left no room for mistake.  I can’t imagine how long it took to tear down or put back up.  And let’s talk about the number of people marching – “The sum total of the People of Israel twenty years old and over who were able to fight in the army, counted by ancestral family, was 603,550.”  That’s just guys, guys!  Imagine packing camp in the morning and stopping at dusk.  How far do you think the People of Israel traveled in those hours?

But God.

God was teaching them how to practice.  God was giving them opportunity to practice.  He was correcting their practice and teaching them how to work with precision, efficiency, and community.  He knew the exact number of days they would practice before they found themselves on the stage of the Jordan River, prepared for a performance of a lifetime.  One that would go down in history, adding to God’s impressive billing as the greatest composer, director, and artist of all time.  He was teaching them to practice by themselves, practice with others, and how to share their efforts.  He wanted them to know what to do and when to move.  Practice until accuracy becomes fluid and technique becomes music and music seeks community.  For each of us is created to sing of life to the heavens.

It’s funny, the tasks I practice willingly and those I grumble about.  Funny, because the reality is without practice there is nothing that reaches its full potential.  Not music, nor parenting.  Not writing, nor a career.  Not faith, nor the very art of living.  I have felt the exhaustion of muscles holding a flute extended, fingers worked to rubber.  I have known the mental exhaustion of processing notes and a million commentaries in my head over just a few measures.  And because of these things, I have known the sweetness of rest after hard work and the magnificence of music lifting far beyond the practice room, the song an extension of me mingled with the voice of others.

Because of my flute I have learned the joy – no really! – the joy of practice.  And I will use this knowledge to Number all of my ways, that I may see those measures of life I need to pause on.  Those notes, if only a few, I will have mastered to be placed back in the song tomorrow.  I am seeking a joyful spirit in what to do, in when to move, and contentment with the effort of this day.  For it will take this kind of work for my life to reach its potential, and I want to be ready to receive the music when I find myself standing on the stage of the Jordan River.

Pay attention: I’m teaching you the rules and regulations that God commanded me, so that you may live by them in the land you are entering to take up ownership. Keep them. Practice them. You’ll become wise and understanding. When people hear and see what’s going on, they’ll say, “What a great nation! So wise, so understanding! We’ve never seen anything like it.     Deut. 4:5, The Message

Favored One, practice seeing the hand of God leading your days.  Then come, let’s practice together in community.  There is beautiful music to make.

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7 thoughts on “Numbers

  1. Jessica Holmes

    The Numbers 9 passage seemed a bit like music as I read it here. Learning the rhythms of God’s leading. Beautiful, yet definitely a learned rhythm that did not often come naturally. Thanks for the reminder to practice. Yet another good reminder to me about what Lent is about–walking in tune to the rhythms of God. Thanks friend! 🙂

  2. Beth Athey

    I really like how you connected Numbers and music! Very nicely done! This sentence–We live more of life in restraint against the song our soul threatens to release from our tight throats.–has certainly been something I’ve struggled with. I appreciate the words you shared today. It’s got me to ponderin’. 🙂

    1. tobibenton Post author

      Yea, I know. All of us spend too much time trying to hold back the good we were made to release – praise! I wonder if restraining the bent towards sin would be an easier task if we spent more time in praise. Glad I’ve got you to ponderin’! Love you friend!

  3. Amy Tilson

    Tobi, this is beautiful!! So much I had never considered or connected before. I hope I get to hear you play one day as a bonus. The way your mind works and gifts us with these words is a true joy!!

    1. tobibenton Post author

      Oh Amy! Thanks for the lavishness of your love! Your words are encouragement for the days my brain hurts from taking so many wandering paths. And I’m glad my propensity for analogies hasn’t driven you away! I pray your Lenten journey is sweet in these first days towards Easter. And speaking of sweet – when are we trying to get together? Love you friend!

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