Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Divine Resonance

[Jesus] was supreme in the beginning and—leading the resurrection parade—he is supreme in the end. From beginning to end he’s there, towering far above everything, everyone. So spacious is he, so roomy, that everything of God finds its proper place in him without crowding. Not only that, but all the broken and dislocated pieces of the universe—people and things, animals and atoms—get properly fixed and fit together in vibrant harmonies, all because of his death, his blood that poured down from the cross. (Colossians 1:18-20 MSG)

I play the piano a little bit—not great, but enough to mess around with it. Sometimes I prefer to play when nobody is around because then I don’t have to worry about whether what I play makes any sense, and it can be just for God. And he doesn’t care if I play just one or two notes, but what he does show me, and what continually astonishes me, is how just a few notes—but just the right notes—can make vibrant harmonies, harmonies that seem to resonate with the music of the spheres, with all the host of heaven praising God and singing of his eternal goodness. In those moments, fleeting as they are, I think I get a glimpse of what it means to be in the presence of God forever. I think we all get those glimpses—we all have moments when we find ourselves in perfect harmony with God and with people. One place we find that perfect harmony is in worship. When we come together in worship we get retuned with each other and with God. That’s why worship has such a central place in our lives and in the church. We also can find that perfect harmony in our relationships with people.

Tuning is key and getting in tune takes careful listening. When you tune an instrument—a stringed instrument—the way that you get it in tune is to turn the pegs that hold the strings, plucking repeatedly to hear whether the tones match or are too high or too low. Depending on how far out of tune the string has gotten, you turn it a lot or just a little. Sometimes even just a tiny bit of turning is all that’s needed. And when it’s perfectly in tune there is an added resonance to the sound. If you listen carefully you can hear harmonic overtones to the note that’s being played. Those harmonic overtones are like vibrant harmonies. A physicist could explain the scientific principles behind them, but that wouldn’t do justice to experience. It’s difficult to describe the way it sounds to hear not just the notes, but the additional resonance that comes from perfectly in tune notes. They seem to reach further into us that just our ears. They fill the air in a bigger way.

Vibrant harmonies can happen in several ways. They can happen when a choir is in perfect harmony, or when instruments are in perfect harmony. And even when the instruments aren’t being played. One violin can cause another to vibrate in resonance. Pluck a string on the first violin and the matching string on the other will also vibrate. My pastoral counseling professor at seminary used these resonating violins as an analogy for relating to those we counsel. We seek to be in tune with whatever is going on with the other person, and to pluck the right string, so that we resonate together. But we have to listen carefully, and keep turning to find the right notes, just like turning the pegs to tune the strings on an instrument. When we get in tune with each other, the resonance is beautiful and vibrant and touches the soul. If we don’t, we create disharmony and dissonance, which is grating and difficult to endure.

Psalm 133 says “How good and pleasant it is when brothers and sisters dwell together in unity.” Brothers and sisters—that’s us. Through our faith in Jesus, we’re all sons and daughters of our heavenly father, so we’re brothers and sisters dwelling together. And the psalmist tells us, “there the Lord bestows his blessing.” When we’re in harmony with each other, seeking God together, taking the time to be in tune with each other, we’re in harmony with God. The Holy Spirit works in us to draw us together and to help us keep in tune with each other and with God.

Being in tune is not a static state, however. Instruments get out of tune as their strings stretch from use. Tuning is also affected by changes in temperature and humidity. So instruments constantly have to be retuned. That’s why in the middle of an orchestra concert, the concert master (usually the first violinist) will sometimes have the orchestra retune at the break between pieces of music. We in the audience may not have noticed that their tuning was off, but the musicians who were listening carefully would have, and some would probably have been uncomfortable with their performance, sensed the dissonance, and missed the resonance that only happens when everyone is in tune.

It’s the same with people. We change, and our situations change. We are not always the same temperature emotionally or physically, and so we have to keep listening to each other and adjusting our understanding of each other to stay in tune. When we are in tune with each other our words will resonate with the person to whom we are speaking. They will ring true. The moments of being so perfectly in tune that we produce vibrant harmonies may be brief and even fleeting, but when they happen they are divine, as if the angels in heaven were singing along with us.

All nature sings and round me rings the music of the spheres.

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