Melody or harmony. What am I singing?

Written by on May 28, 2015

This is an excerpt from session one of A Way of Life. It bears repeating for me, and maybe for you, too.


There is a story of a five-year-old boy and his mother, who every night put him to bed. She came into his room to talk to him, and to tuck him in, and to pray with him. Some nights they sang together – “Jesus loves me, this I know . . .” or “The B-I-B-L-E! Yes, that’s the book for me” or “You are my sunshine, my only sunshine . . .” or any other of those many early songs he never remembered actually learning, but always somehow seemed to know.


One night while they sang, Mother began to harmonize with the melody of the song. As the boy stuck to the familiar tune, he could hear and feel the movement of her notes weave beautifully with his. Her voice added depth and breadth and beauty to this simple song. The song felt larger, more beautiful.


“What are you doing?” he asked her.

“I am singing the harmony,” she replied.


Harmony. He had never heard that word before. They continued singing. Mother harmonizing, now deepening, now widening, now filling in, her voice dancing lovingly around his.  It was beautiful.


Then she said, “Now you try! You be the harmony.”

So she sang the melody, and the boy tried with everything he had to respond, to meet her voice as she had met his. His child’s voice hunted for the harmony, but the boy found that his voice only collided and strained and clashed with hers. The resulting sound was many things, but not beautiful. How frustrating it was for the boy!


Still, his mother encouraged him over and again, “Keep trying,” until seemingly by accident, his voice met hers. For a moment, just a moment, he added something very beautiful – and she was the melody, and he was the harmony. And it was wonderful.


For him that night had been a beginning, an initiation. And night after night he would learn – through much frustration and disharmony, but sometimes with wonder, and always among song – to be the harmony.


In so many ways we are like the boy of this story. In this life of faith, we are learning to harmonize. And it requires much persistence and thought and encouragement and practice. The Scriptures offer us quite a melody – of creation and redemption, of Jesus and the Holy Spirit, of love and truth and mercy – which runs through history. The Scriptures also provide us with quite a few lessons in harmonizing with this melody. The biblical witness of Israel and the Church portrays men and women who sought to align – and realign – their lives with God’s way in the world. They learned to “hear the melody” and to “be the harmony.”


But when one steps back from the witness of Scripture, and from the testimonies of church history, one has to wonder whether today, in North America especially, so much of our growth as individuals and as communities has been stunted by believing our part is melody, not harmony. Could it be that we have been offered too many models and admonitions to be solo artists while we have instead been invited and designed to join a harmonizing chorus? Have we insisted on singing the melody when we are created rather to sing the harmony?


Think on this with me for a while . . . is my life reflecting a harmony with God’s plan, or am I struggling and striving to always be the melody, thus expecting the God of the universe to fill in with my melody?


At least for me, I need to re-assess my place in the chorus on a regular basis. It’s just too easy to slip from my harmony line which God has assigned to me, to belting out my own independent, seldom-lovely melody.

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  1. Kay Kurth   On   May 29, 2015 at 1:35 pm

    Thank you for this reminder from “The Way”. It has reminded me yet again that singing a melody is important, but coming in with the harmony takes practice and effort. Ministry and life requires us to do both. But when we are able to come along side of people and ministries singing harmony, the true work of God happens.

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