Getting out of bed is a simple act for most, but for a paralytic, it is the substance of dreams. To walk, run, and dance is reserved for sleep when a paralyzed person can escape his limitations. There is a story about such a person in first-century Palestine. All he knew was that he’d laid on a stretcher for many years depending on others for movement when along came a stranger named Yeshua who said, “get up, take your mat and go home.” The man did it, and “when the crowd saw this, they were filled with awe…” (Matthew 9:6-8, NIV) I imagine a scene of joyous discovery and humor as this man relearns how to walk, run, and dance. His miraculous return home was the start of a new life free from the previous limitations. I wrote a piece exploring what this journey might have been like, and it takes on the shape of a fugue.
The fugue, a musical form and compositional process especially popular in the 17th and 18th century, offers listeners a unique picture of theological “walking.” For those who may not remember your music theory teacher’s presentation on fugues, I’d like to give you a quick recap. I will also include the timings for the various sections in my fugue.
Fugues are complex, but they all feature three types of sections: an exposition, episodes, and a middle entry. The Exposition is the first music that is heard (0:00), and it is composed of the subject (main melody) and countersubject (secondary melody) of the piece presented in different keys. These are the principal musical ideas that will govern the rest of the fugue.
The Exposition is followed by a musical Episode – this part of the fugue is filled with variations on the subject and countersubject. It is filled with free counterpoint, and there is a sense that the composer is exploring the original musical ideas through improvisation – intentionally and creatively developing the material in a spontaneous, organic way (ex. 1:33 & 2:05).
This is followed by the third section called a Middle Entry which is a return of the subject and countersubject in a closely-related key. The rest of the fugue alternates between Episodes and Entries of the principal musical material (ex. 1:51 & 3:04).
I like to think of the fugue as a musical depiction of Christian discipleship imagined as a form of walking. In this picture, the Exposition and Middle Entries can reflect the role of Scripture and theological statements (ex. church doctrine, tradition, and liturgy) which are then improvised upon by the Spirit-led faithful in their daily lives. Believers receive the Word of God in Christ and in Scripture and gather to celebrate the Eucharist (usually in a Sunday service), but the space we live in as believers is that of the Episode. Throughout the week, we are improvisers in a spiritual and practical sense. This does not mean that we are making it up on the spot. We have chosen to build our lives around the counsel of Christ, and this becomes our point of departure in life (or at least, it is supposed to be this way). As Christians, we see ourselves in the story of the paralytic, and our response to God is one of faith – the brave choice to “get up” and live into the words of Christ.
The ways in which disciples walk may be quite different even though they are following the Way of Jesus Christ, so the result is one of tremendous variety. However, the gospel is the unifying tune upon we Christians improvise. This redemptive gospel narrative is a force that makes possible true celebration of unity in diversity – in music and in relationships (this is what we aim to accomplish through this website)! Christians acknowledge that brokenness (paralysis) is real, but so is grace. This is God’s gift to us, and our gift to each other. In Christ, healing happens, and we can all rise up and relearn how to walk, run, and dance!
Josh Rodriguez, co-director of Deus-ex-Musica, Assistant Professor of Music Theory & Composition
California Baptist University
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