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The virtuoso of L’ Enfant Plaza

By David Moore

He stood against a wall in the L’Enfant Plaza station of the Washington Metrorail system. Dressed in jeans and T-shirt and wearing a Washington Nationals baseball cap, he played the violin for nearly an hour as more than a 1,000 commuters passed within 3 feet.

The instrument’s case lay open, inviting donations from those who deemed his music worthy of a contribution.

These were not ordinary commuters. Almost all were government workers — financial forecasters, policy analysts and project managers.

But the fiddler was no ordinary street musician. As an experiment, The Washington Post prearranged the morning of Jan. 12, 2007, for world-renowned violinist Joshua Bell to position himself in the most conspicuous location possible and perform.

The Post wanted to know how many passersby would recognize beauty and genius and stop to acknowledge it. So here was Bell, “one of the finest classical musicians in the world, playing some of the most elegant music ever written on one of the most valuable violins ever made,” wrote staff writer Gene Weingarten.

Three days earlier Bell had played to a packed Symphony Hall in Boston, where most had paid more than $100 apiece. Two weeks later he performed before a North Bethesda, Md., standing-room-only crowd in awe and hushed silence, bedazzled by the deft blending of sound and movement.

The conveyer of Bell’s brilliance at L’Enfant Plaza was the same instrument he always plays, handmade by Antonio Stradivari in 1713.

His music consisted of some of the most difficult-to-master pieces. But just seven of the nearly 1,100 passersby paused for at least a minute to listen. Twenty-seven dropped money in the violin case, $32 and change by the end of the performance for a man whose talents can command $1,000 a minute.

It’s one thing to be in the presence of a world-renowned virtuoso and miss the beauty and splendor of his artistry. It’s quite another to ignore and miss the God of the universe who seeks to reveal himself to us with fresh insight and truth every day.

Paul tells us “since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities — his eternal power and divine nature — have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made” (Romans 1:20, NIV).

All of us have ignored the Lord more than we’d want to admit. Like the virtuoso, His beauty and splendor are before us, calling for our attention. But God’s performance never ends.

Unlike the virtuoso, He offers far more than human brilliance. For “the God who made the world and everything in it … is not served by human hands, as if he needed anything, because he himself gives all men life and breath and everything else” (Acts 17:24,25).

This God created us with a soul — with desires, longing for meaning, love, transcendence, a moral conscience, and an instinct for eternity. It is into this vessel God wants to reveal himself. He wants us to be so in tune with His nature that wherever we are or are going, we will stop and recognize His presence and the splendor of His ways, listening as He speaks truth into our lives. 

The majority of commuters would have recognized the young man standing against the wall playing his violin had they taken the time to look his way.

Only one person recognized the world-renowned virtuoso. She described it as “the most astonishing thing I’ve ever seen. Joshua Bell was standing there playing at rush hour, and people were not stopping, not even looking.”

Like the commuters, many of us are so caught up in our own world we often fail to recognize the God of the universe who is always so near. Not even the disciples recognized Jesus shortly after His resurrection. They were in a boat, having fished all night with no results.

John records that “Jesus stood on the shore, but the disciples did not realize that it was Jesus. He called out to them, ‘Friends, haven’t you any fish?’ ‘No,’ they answered” (John 21:4,5). Though they were close enough to hear His voice, they did not recognize Jesus.

But they cast their nets on the opposite side of the boat as He suggested. Immediately their nets were filled with fish. Then one disciple finally recognized who was standing on the shore. John called out, “It is the Lord!”

God’s purpose in creating and placing us where we are is so we would “seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from each one of us” (Acts 17:27). But seeking for something is valuable to us only so far as finding it is precious.

The L’Enfant Plaza travelers did not recognize the virtuoso because they were not seeking or paying attention. And we will not recognize the presence of God if we are not seeking Him.

The one person who recognized the virtuoso summed up her reaction, “I was thinking, What kind of a city do I live in that this could happen?

More importantly, what kind of existence do we live where God is all around us yet we fail to look His way, to recognize the beauty and splendor of His presence, and the wisdom of His ways?

DAVID MOORE is special projects coordinator for Convoy of Hope in Springfield, Mo.

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