Rev. Christy Thomas: Singing together helps put people in harmony

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The airwaves have been filled with a particularly heavy load of bad news.

Human error contributed to some: plane and train wrecks. Political discord contributed to more: violent rioting in Egypt and intrigues and shenanigans in Austin during the special session of the Texas Legislature. Human differences and limitations in opinion and points of view contributed to others, such as actions and reactions to the Florida trial and verdict in the death of Trayvon Martin.

Much reflects the dark side of our humanity. In the midst of this, an intriguingly nice snippet surfaced: Research has shown that people who sing hymns together find that their hearts start beating in rhythm with each other.

Singing together, particularly in unison, apparently serves as a type of guided breathing, as we exhale singing the phrases and inhale in the pauses. According to the research, “it took almost no time at all for the singers’ heart rates to become synchronized. The readout from the pulse monitors starts as a jumble of jagged lines, but quickly becomes a series of uniform peaks. The heart rates fall into a shared rhythm guided by the song’s tempo.”

Now, that’s a bit of human news that brings hope.

I have long said that good religious practice trains our hearts to beat with the rhythm of God’s heartbeat. Now, such language is metaphorical. God doesn’t have a physical heart. Yet, there does appear to be a rhythm to the universe. This rhythm that guides the physical realm also appears to inform universal basic human needs for justice, mercy, safety, freedom from fear and effectiveness of our actions.

Unfortunately, because we are all so limited in our abilities to see much beyond our tiny worlds, we keep bumping into one another in the most destructive of ways as we try to catch the rhythm and meet those legitimate needs.

Nonetheless, I believe we can tap into God’s rhythm. I also believe the cause of most human ills come both from our limited abilities to sense that guiding rhythm and our refusal to get in sync with it if switching rhythms means disruption in our lives.

Again, after thinking about recent news, I suggest that if Jesus were alive today, he might offer an analogy about the kingdom of heaven that reads this way: “The fullness of grace comes when people who stand in total opposition to one another on essentially irresolvable issues nonetheless join hands and sing together until their hearts beat as one — even as their differences remain.”

Wouldn’t that be wonderful? Can you see reaching across the divides that threaten to destroy us and recognize that we are in this together?

I wonder if this synchronization in heartbeat is one reason why music has always been important. Every society I know of has developed some indigenous music.

Every society has also developed public rituals that bond people together with music as the glue. Think “The Star-Spangled Banner” or “God Bless America” at sports events or “Amazing Grace” at concerts and religious events or even “I’d Like to Teach the World to Sing,” starting as a commercial jingle but eventually taking on almost cult status as the simple words resonate deeply in the human heart.

I know I am an idealist. I know my own brokenness and the brokenness I see all around me often threaten to take me under in grief and despair. But if we cannot or do not contemplate the ideal, we cannot bring healing to the real, the everyday messes, challenges and fractures.

“I’d like to teach the world to sing in perfect harmony” — did you just start humming the tune? Yes, I would. I would love to enjoy it, hear it, participate in it, savor it.

I can’t force others to sing in harmony. Use of force means discord has already won. But I can learn my harmony. So can you.

THE REV. CHRISTY THOMAS is the pastor of First United Methodist Church of Krum. She can be reached at 940-482-3482 or christy@krumumc.org .

 


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