One morning last week I woke up with the word “unison” on my brain. It was the first conscious word in my head that day, perhaps the remnant of a dream or the expression of some strong subliminal need to feel more at one with God and the world. I don’t know why this happens, but it’s probably important to pay attention when our mind signals our heart by actively using the subconscious to convey some unmistakable message.
From my years as a professional musician I know that true unison of intonation or any group tone is among the most difficult to achieve. It’s why every concert usually starts with a moment of silence dedicated to tuning the instruments – someone sounds a true A, the players make some adjustments and, at least theoretically, everyone starts with the same pitch.
Unison singing is even more difficult because it requires extraordinary attentiveness to the expressive nuances of others. To produce a collective sound that seems like a single voice demands acute listening, musical accommodation, and the sense of a whole larger than any one person’s voice.
There's perhaps no experience in all of life more atonal than grief. The unison of our spirit with the heart and soul of another easily becomes the white noise of discord when we grieve the death of one we love. We’re out of tune with life as we’ve known it - with ourselves, with those we love, sometimes even with God. Often we express the dissonance within us as anger, fear, worry, or resentment. From the unresolved emotions of our grief we hear only the cacophony that jars our spirit with its loud, insistent clanging. And though the music of our life stops for a while when a loved one dies, the unison of our love remains forever in our heart.
Perhaps when all’s said and done in life the most consistent inmost desire of our heart is to be at one with God, to live in steady unison with the Holy Spirit. When we grieve we struggle daily to create harmony out of the discordant parts of our life. How do we retune our being to exist in a world without the one we love and grieve? How do we attune ourselves to the presence of God when our mind and soul and body are dissonant with what is spiritual, lasting, and real?
It’s hard to listen, to be silent long enough to discern the unison of God’s steadfast love and faithfulness to us as we grieve. We find momentary quiet and respite from the clamor within when we pray, “By day the Lord commands his steadfast love, and at night his song is with me, a prayer to the God of my life” (Psalm 42:8 NRSV).
Our spiritual unison with God is a cooperative work of fine tuning. God is always present to us, we have only to still our mind and voice in the life-giving peace of prayer to experience the perfect accord of our spirit with the heart of God, “You have made known to me the ways of life; you will make me full of gladness with your presence” (Acts 2:28 NRSV). When we are at one with God, we are in unison with life.
My presence will go with you, and I will give you rest.
Exodus 33:14 NRSV
Keep me this day, O God, in unison with your spirit. Amen.