I always encourage my piano students to practice, as I know all music teachers surely do, so that the kids will make progress with their natural gifts. I ask them to set aside some of the time they devote to video games (often hours) and spend it enjoying the beauty of piano music. This is the typical music teacher’s lament, of course. “If they could just apply themselves a little every day,” the pieces would be played more smoothly, and the moments of stopping to search for the right note would be few and far between.
All my students are gifted, although in different degree, with a bit of talent. I use this metaphor of piano practice to show how we can also progress with a little spiritual culture every day. By training the fingers to play scales, arpeggios, and cadence chord patterns, the gift of talent can emerge and express itself. But do they experience growth? “Man cannot cause growth, but he can supply favorable conditions. Growth is always unconscious, be it physical, intellectual, or spiritual” (The Urantia Book, The UB, 100:3.7).
As the technical skills increase (making progress), I hope for an increase (spiritual growth) in soul expression and depths of emotion in their playing. Making progress strikes me as a more conscious process, growth being “unvaryingly unconscious," as The UB says (100:1.8). We can resolve to do a service project, impose self-discipline, meet the challenge, achieve progress. With a little faith in the spirit guide within (the gift of talent and creativity), some time spent in communion, our lives would go smoother and we’d make beautiful music.
Thomas Merton had an insight into the interplay of progress and growth, how the regular practice of prayer would lead to episodes of growth, gifts of God. “All through the life of faith one must resort constantly to prayer, because faith is not simply a gift which we receive once for all in our first act of belief. Every new development of faith, every new increment of supernatural light, even though we may earnestly work to acquire it, remains a pure gift of God,” (Life and Holiness, 1963).
Jesus also reassured his followers about the certain result of their efforts to grow and progress. “My children, if there exists a true and living connection between the child and the Father, the child is certain to progress continuously toward the Father's ideals. True, the child may at first make slow progress, but the progress is none the less sure. The important thing is not the rapidity of your progress but rather its certainty. Your actual achievement is not so important as the fact that the direction of your progress is Godward. What you are becoming day by day is of infinitely more importance than what you are today.” (147:5.7)
The UB has refined the interrelationship between growth and progress in this way: “growth is not mere progress. Progress is always meaningful, but it is relatively valueless without growth. The supreme value of human life consists in growth of values, progress in meanings, and realization of the cosmic interrelatedness of both of these experiences. And such an experience is the equivalent of God-consciousness.” (100:3.6, pg. 1097)
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