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Thursday, April 23, 2015

Week of April 19, 2015

"We need to come to terms with what is."
"Once we become aware of what is, then we..."
"It's the what is that matters most."

I hear this stand-alone phrase used often.  While I get what it's getting at, it gnaws at me subtly, almost like a fingernail scraping an old chalkboard.
 "What is..." what?  Come on!  Finish it!  Resolve it!  Does anyone else share this tick with me?  It sounds like such a cop-out.  It's lazy, incomplete on the part of one's logic.  No: finish the thought!  Don't assume we're on the same page.  Don't assume your "what is" is a universal.

Yet, I find myself writing and saying the phrase in spite of my need for resolution.  A similar phenomenon happens musically, too.  We joke about it in the church band sometimes.

The "seventh" note in the major scale (do-re-mi-fa-so-la-TI-do), due to its relationship with the particular sequence of the first six notes, naturally wants to resolve into the "do"--the "eighth," the octave of the "first."  Christians and Messianic Jews might see in this resolution the resurrection: day one (do), day two (re), day three (mi), day four (fa), day five (so), Good Friday (la - the "sixth"-the minor), SABBATH (TI-the "seventh"), resurrection day/eighth day/Sunday (do)!  The "seventh" conjures tension as it sharpens the "flat-seventh" Blues note (which I love) and flattens the root (which is homey and comfortable).  My innards wrench a bit in the limbo.

There's a catch, though: music is relative.  Human experience creates culture, which guides the way we process various frequencies of sound waves.

Behold, the major scale: C-D-E-F-G-A-B-C.  Can't hear it?  Just imagine Fraulein Maria's "'Do' a Deer" song?  Start with the "seventh"(B), and the scale takes on a whole different personality: B-C-D-E-F-G-A-B.  The overall feel of the scale is movement towards resolution, but it just won't resolve.  Why? Starting with the "seventh," we've set a "seventh" tone (figuratively speaking; but, in music theory, we're really talking about mode here--the "Locrian," I think).

Will "...it bring us back to 'do'"?  Well, if you start from "do" it will.  Start from "re," and you'll feel a need to resolve on "re," though the "second" overall tone (mode - "Dorian") doesn't carry the tension of the "seventh."  The same goes with "mi," "fa," "so," and the others.

The phrase "what is" carries this same energy for me.  If my "what is" begins from a place of "things must resolve," then I'll manifest a mood in a Locrian mode, resonating in the world with all things yet resolved.  Everywhere I turn, things will be tense; and, the tension will just keep building and never resolve.

"What is" doesn't have to be so one-dimensional, thanks to Harmony.  See, within us are all the notes simultaneously.  More than that: within us are all the frequencies between the notes (Yes: I mean both the actual sound wave frequencies and potential life experiences).  Most of them, we can't even recognize.  They are any and everything that registers between a pause.  We organize our experience (like our notes) into nice patters (like our scales) that are both repeatable and recognizable.  Most of "what is" gets filtered out within us, and we'll never hear it.  However, of what we do hear and recognize of ourselves, and thus out in the world, can and does coexist in a variety of relationships--harmony.

If I begin my day simply with "what is," and that "what is" means pain; then, there is pain.  That's all.  Pain can but doesn't have to be the mode of my day.  Why? because there is harmony.  When I allow the "first," "third," and "fifth" to coexist, and that becomes "what is," then something beautiful emerges: a chord.  Chords offer possibilities!  They make music full.  When our "what is" begins harmonizing experiences, our lives become full.  We're no longer enslaved by any one "what is." 

Maybe we began tense.  Anxiousness is our reality.  It's a "yikes" kind of moment, and it keeps playing over and over again.  You'll recognize that as the "seventh" note.  Amid those moments, maybe we are able to step back and observe ourselves being anxious.  Hmm, that seems very "rooted," maybe like the "first" note of the scale.  We notice some sense of waiting, as though things are going to change; and, we're hopeful.  To me, that feels like the "third" note in our scale.  Also, we have a sense that everything's going exactly as it should, and yet there's more!  That's got a "fifth" note ring to it.  We just built a Major-seven chord: 1-3-5-7 (C-E-G-B).  Behold, the sound of Jazz  For so long, Western culture avoided the Locrian harmonies around the "seventh," but we learned to journey with those diabolical notes.    

Speaking of the Devil, a legend tells of a Blues man going down to the crossroads.  There he met none other than the Devil himself.

"You want to be the greatest Blues man who ever lived?"
"Yes, sir."
"What will you give me in return?"
"Everything, sir."
"Mind if I hold that there guitar?"

The Devil clutched Robert Johnson's guitar and, as the legend goes, he tuned the guitar in a way no other guitar had ever been tuned.

Robert Johnson is a tragic hero, one who died too young by suspected poisoning.  His most famous song, Crossroad Blues, captures the darkness shrouding his music and may have even inspired the legend of his meeting up with the Devil at the crossroads.

But, you see, the Devil made a mistake in the tuning.  He flattened the "seventh."  What a critical miscalculation that was!  That flattened-"seventh" note is the distinctive sound of the Blues when in harmony with the "first" note.  What is the Blues?  A people oppressed for centuries, instead of allowing that sorrow and hardship to destroy them, found joy amid sorrow.  Johnson's music didn't bring on evil and sorrow.  Rather, it kept the juke joints hopping on Saturday nights.  That flattened-"seventh" alone may have even been more diabolical than a regular "seventh," being somewhere in between the sorrow-filled "sixth" and the anxious "seventh."  However, in harmony with the root, man, that flattened-"seventh" created a genre of music that defied the Devil.  Those joy-filled, oppressed folk found a way to overcome amid the worst humanity had to offer!  They used their very heart-breaking "what is" to re-create life into something worth celebrating.

And that is the point: we are always rooted in "what is."  And, "what is" is always more than simply where you begin.  There's a fullness in "what is."  Every moment is full of possibilities and may never actually be completely resolved.

I think Jesus understood this immensely (Mark 9.50Matthew 6.22-23John 10.10).  Our mission as "eighth" note folk is to be fully in "what is" with a faith that celebrates the joy of knowing the possibilities are endless, whether we can hear the note resolve or not.

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