Mind Matters

by Rev. Robert H. Tucker

Number 312
September 14, 1998

Ralph Waldo Emerson
1803 - 1882

Foolish Consistencies


Maestro Georg Solti, conductor of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra for 22 years, died two years ago this month. Solti, with that long career behind him, still would turn over the leaves of new, unmarked scores in his search for a fresh interpretation of music earlier performed. "The enemy, for a musician as for any other artists, is not this or that negative remark by an outsider, but rather laziness and self-complacency."

True for more than artists. Routine kills the inquisitive spirit, treating each similar experience as eye-glazing repetition. Routine stunts relationships, viewing the other person as a static entity. Routine stifles science, skipping over the anomalies that question accepted truths. Routine turns a minister's fifteen years experience in three different churches into five years experience three times. Routine commitment to organizations justifies all policies and actions.

A deep discomfort accompanies Solti's statement. At one time, I would begin each Sunday's bulletin with a blank sheet of paper. The structure of the service would take shape depending on the morning's theme. In this way, form would follow function. Though not always successful, when form and function were in harmony, worship came alive in a special way. The lack of time to do this week after week and the need to have such creativity complete several weeks ahead so choral music can be rehearsed has made continuing the practice unfeasible. The compromise has been to use a repetitive form but to make certain that all the elements of the worship service support and expand the theme.

Yet, not all routine is to be discounted. There is the unconscious rhythm of breathing. There is the routine of brushing one's teeth, saving time and avoiding a clutter of the mind with endless decisions of detail. There is the repetition of a mantra that allows a person to enter a different level of consciousness (the routine order of worship can be experienced as an elongated mantra). So very often I have repeated the Lord's Prayer word-for-word and not remembered saying it.

Ralph Waldo Emerson provides guidance at this point. He wrote: "A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds." Not all consistency but a foolish consistency. The word 'foolish' is critical. Given the ease with which we unobtrusively slip into a routine of "laziness and self-complacency," one's first impulse should be to mistrust every consistency as foolish until proven otherwise.

Emerson went on to say: "With consistency a great soul has simply nothing to do." Well, if Emerson says so.

--Robert H. Tucker
14 September 1998


© Robert H. Tucker, 1998.
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