Ralph Waldo Emerson is the author of the quote in today's title. I'm pretty sure he was referring to those exquisite Stradivarius violins (or violas, cellos, or other stringed instruments) produced by the Italian Stradivari family in the 17th and 18th centuries. In that case, I'm sure anyone who is a skilled violinist would agree. Those instruments do indeed produce magnificent sounds when they are placed in the right hands.
But, I'm not so sure that the best tunes are played by the oldest fiddle PLAYERS.
Last Sunday morning I did something I had not done for almost 20 years. I played a pipe organ in a worship service. For 10 years, I played a beautiful pipe organ at Central Baptist Church in Decatur -- 2 services every Sunday morning, 1 service on Sunday night, weddings, funerals, Easter, revivals, etc. I became very familiar with that instrument and got to the point where I could swiftly make my way to the bench and pull the right stops in a matter of seconds. But that was then. A lot of life has happened between my final service as organist at Central in 2002 and playing one hymn in a service at First Baptist in Decatur in 2022.
I was nervous. My feet had a hard time remembering how far apart the pedals were. I used to have some trusty organ shoes that I slipped on to play. Sunday I went barefooted. My eyesight has deteriorated tremendously. The glasses that allow me to see the music create a blur when I look at the director. If the director had known all these things, he'd likely have asked someone else to play. ANYONE else. The very accomplished, and long-time regular organist was out sick. My admiration for her grew exponentially. We joined the church the previous Sunday, and there I was the very next week. And, to top it all, I wasn't just supposed to play soft, filling-in-the-gaps background music. I was supposed to "pull out all the stops" and "play the last verse loud enough for the Methodists across the street to hear!" Yes. There would be no hiding of any mistakes. As I said, I was nervous. My prayer was, "Please, dear Lord, don't let me do something that will disrupt the worship."
(Video recordings of morning services are on the church's website. I nervously looked today and saw myself on the screen for about 3 seconds. Here's a screenshot.)
Mercifully, God answered my prayer. I don't believe any Methodists heard the music, but neither did I fall off the bench or land my foot on an incorrect pedal when the organ was at full throttle. I was vastly relieved to exit that bench.
Aging is a complicated subject, isn't it? In some ways, we have more wisdom, insight, and experience than ever before. But, in other ways, our dexterity, mobility, and pretty much anything about our physical bodies start to make things much more difficult.
The psalmist must have experienced many of the same things as he faced the challenges of aging. Look how he cries out to God in Psalm 71:
Verse 9 -- "Do not cast me off in the time of old age; forsake me not when my strength is spent." And in verse 18 -- "So even to old age and gray hairs, O God, do not forsake me, until I proclaim your might to another generation, your power to all those to come."
Notice the faith the psalmist professes in these verses --
Psalm 37:25 -- "I have been young, and now am old, yet I have not seen the righteous forsaken or his children begging for bread."
Psalm 92:12-15 -- "The righteous flourish like the palm tree and grow like a cedar in Lebanon. They are planted in the house of the Lord; they flourish in the courts of our God. They still bear fruit in old age; they are ever full of sap and green, to declare that the Lord is upright; He is my rock, and there is no unrighteousness in Him."
Then God makes HIS declaration to assure us in Isaiah 46:4 -- "Even to your old age I am He, and to gray hairs I will carry you. I have made, and I will bear; I will carry and will save."
The New Living Translation says it like this: "I will be your God throughout your lifetime— until your hair is white with age. I made you, and I will care for you. I will carry you along and save you."
So, let's just say that I've thought about my increasing age this past week and needed to look inside God's Word for instruction and reassurance. Maybe these verses will speak to you, too.
Let's keep playing the best tunes we can play -- whether there's music involved or not.