On the little table in my front hall there is a life-sized bust of Johann Sebastian Bach. It’s there to remind me of the beauty in this world and to serve as a hat rack for my summer straw.
I’ve always admired Bach for his elegant melodies intricately woven among various voices and instruments; however, I was amazed to learn recently that according to historians, Bach stated, “Every note I write is for the glory of God.” Imagine all of those unique notes filling compositions for keyboard, violin, orchestra and voice, written to glorify God! Bach even wrote on some of his scores — S.D.G (Soli Deo Gloria) — Latin for Glory to God Alone.
George Frederick Handel did some of the same. Sir John Eliot Gardiner, the British citizen and international conductor recognized for his interpretation of Bach, Handel and other Baroque composers, inspired by Bach’s dedication, named his own recording label — Soli Deo Gloria.
And it continues. Aaron Shust, an American musical artist and winner of numerous honors by the Gospel Music Association Dove Awards among them, new artist of the year and songwriter of the year for 2007, sings “To God Alone” in his 2008 album Take Over:
'To God alone be the glory
To God alone the praise
Everything I say and do
Let it be all for you.'
We can tour great cathedrals such as Westminster Abbey, Chartres and Notre Dame, and admire famous art by Raphael, Caravaggio, and Michelangelo, all clearly created to praise and honor God, but maybe we need — I need — to speak the words, “Glory to God Alone.”
In our modern-day world of selfies, social media and ever-present marketing experts eager to promote us, our work and our interests, might we stop for a moment and consider — have we unwittingly shifted our focus today from God to self?
We often say “I’m so busy,” as if that alone were defining us. Our work is important; however, as was the work of Bach, Handel, and the hands of the cathedral builders and artists praising God. OK, maybe what we do isn’t on par with Bach or Michelangelo, but it still matters.
What is your work?
Do you change diapers, raise youngsters, wade through loads of laundry each week? Do you coach a team, fight fires, farm? Do you teach, run a nonprofit, build houses? Do you conduct research, wait tables, untangle technology glitches? Do you help in a hospital or a hospice? Do you head a company, cook family meals, serve in the military?
What is my work?
I write, I mentor, I listen. I pay bills, load the dishwasher, and take out the trash. I send thank-you notes. I pray.
What is our work?
We vote. We pick up litter and return shopping carts to the corrals. We drive responsibly. We are courteous. We sneeze in our sleeve. We say “Thank you” and mean it. We say “Forgive me” and mean it. We say, “You are right, I was wrong” and mean it. We return library books. We read to children. We look after our pets.
We try to stay informed about issues in our community and world, and address differences of opinion with civility. We are kind. We support and volunteer for causes that interest us.
We care for the most vulnerable among us (the poor, the homeless, the elderly, the ill, the lonely, the handicapped, the children, the imprisoned, the refugee) because this is how we are judged as an individual, a family, an organization, a city, a state, a country.
Perhaps, if we whisper, or even just imagine — For the Glory of God Alone — our boring, insignificant, exhausting, although sometimes interesting work, can be elevated to something quite astonishing. Our dish-doing, elder-caring, and community-building that only we can do, become something bigger and more beautiful with this intention. And we discover that we are connected to each other in surprising ways and to our Creator, giving meaning to our lives. Meaning, which seems to be missing for many.
As for me, each time I pass Bach’s bust on the hall table, I’m going to pause and remember — everything I do — For the Glory of God Alone.
Judy Knotts is a parishioner of St. John Neumann Catholic Church, and former head of St. Gabriel’s Catholic School and St. Michael’s Catholic Academy. Her newest book, “You Are My Brother,” is a collection of past American-Statesman faith columns.