A Harmonic of Love

Today’s post is by Stuart Higginbotham

Some two years ago, I guided my parish through the search process to find a new Director of Music and Organist. We gathered one night in the choir room to share time with the remarkable human being who is now our Director of Music. During the choir rehearsal time, one choir member stood and asked a question: “Can you modulate between keys?”

The question caught me off guard. I thought it was a strange question to ask someone in a graduate program for organ and vocal studies. Yet the image of modulation has hooked me for two years now. In music, modulation is most commonly the act or process of changing from one key to another. Modulations articulate or create the structure or form of many pieces, as well as add interest.

While I am not a music scholar, I know what it feels like to move from one key to another. I know what it feels like during Lent to experience minor keys that help create a space just a bit more conducive to penitence and, perhaps, sorrow. I know what it feels like in my gut to experience the resolution of a chord in a beautiful hymn. Music is extraordinary: the modulation, the vibration we feel in our bodies, the harmony we share in a singing community.

For a while now, I have been delving deeply into the writings of John Main, that great English Benedictine monk who helped launch the World Community for Christian Meditation. While I was with Tilden Edwards, Richard Rohr, Thomas Keating, Margaret Benefiel, and Laurence Freeman in Snowmass last summer, using a mantra to meditate struck a powerful chord in my own heart. Main’s writings speak to the potential of using a mantra as a contemplative practice. By slowly repeating our mantra, we experience a poverty of thought. We seek to limit the fixation of our thinking mind, thus opening to a deeper space within us—our spiritual heart. Main’s image is beautiful: “It is like a harmonic that we sound in the depths of our spirit, bringing us to an ever-deepening sense of our own wholeness and central harmony.”[1]

A harmonic. This practice has helped me see the potential within myself and my parish community. For years, I have shared conversations with Tilden Edwards about the capacity within us—as individual persons and as communities—to share in what he has described as “this spacious openness between and behind [our thoughts].”[2] How can we lean into these spaces of the spiritual heart within communities rather than remain overly fixated on program maintenance and corporate management models? How can we sink beneath our ego, our grasping mind, our fixation on our thinking capacity, and rest in this “spacious openness?” To return to my earlier image, how can we modulate to another key?

The image of the mantra as a harmonic is a powerful one for me, because it takes seriously my own experience of the way communities—and my own heart—vibrate at different frequencies. When I find myself ransacked by anxiety and stress—when my ego is pinched—I know what it feels like to have a vibration that is too tight and constricted. There is no room for the Spirit to squeeze in around my shallow breaths. My soul squeaks. I yearn for that spacious openness that is the seat of my spiritual heart, out of which I can move and respond to the pressures I face with hope and trust rather than anxiety and fear.

We face so much in our world that rightly concerns us. The world seems to be stuck in a minor key, if you will. So much sadness, anger, fear, anxiety, frustration. In all this, perhaps our deeper yearning can be described by the desire to modulate keys, to experience a harmonic of love that sounds deeply within our souls, vibrating and opening our hearts to a fuller and resonant experience of God’s grace and love. In this space of the heart, God meets us and breathes new life in us. In this heart-center, our souls sing. Out of this space of the heart we embody compassion and justice in a struggling world. This gives me hope!

[1] John Main, Word into Silence: A Manual for Christian Meditation (Norwich: Canterbury Press, 2006), 14.
[2] Tilden Edwards, Embracing the Call to Spiritual Depth: Gifts for Contemplative Living (New York: Paulist Press, 2010), 6.
March 03, 2018 by Stuart Higginbotham 1 Comment
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