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I’ve been thinking about the key of Jesus since I wrote about it here. If there is a “key of Jesus,” what does it sound like, and how do we listen for it? The music that flows from the Trinity and holds all creation together has many melodies: countless phrases and motifs that recur over and over. Being able to recognize these melodies takes practice. Practice involves different strategies at different times. An early strategy is the simple practice of repetition; listening consistently and repeatedly as an experienced guide points to the important melodies. As we become more familiar with the themes, the practice involves intentionally listening for the core melody’s variations. Variation is melody’s wardrobe: any color, fabric, shape, or style you can imagine can adorn the melody. When you can recognize variation, you begin to hear the connections that weave themselves throughout the music. Recognizing variation opens your listening to creativity that goes beyond the main themes to sense how phrases and motifs are transformed into new melodies.

Repetition, variation and transformation are foundational elements of the key of Jesus. Tuning in to Jesus is an adventure that always holds something surprising if you are listening well. Just like listening to this week’s Mahler Symphony – when you think you’ve consistently caught the falling “cuckoo” motif, suddenly there’s a variation and then a transformation, and the music takes a twist into uncharted territory.

With Jesus, good listening is always open to the variations; the situational distinctions that call for a slightly different approach, the melodic creativity that resonates into the hearts of those listening.

Of course, all of this takes practice and play and experimentation. Maybe listening to musical examples can help us be better attuned to spiritual examples. As you listen this week, I have included a link that includes a page of the key themes of each movement of the symphony. You don’t need the sheet to listen for the melodies, the variation and the transformation that happens in this work, but if you want to go deeper, take a look at the link.

Every day we have opportunities to listen for the key of Jesus – what melodies and variations can you hear this week?

Gustav Mahler, Symphony #1 in D

Leonard Slatkin conducts the Detroit Symphony Orchestra


First Movement Themes

Second Movement Themes

Third Movement Themes

Fourth Movement Themes