Archive for May 4th, 2008

Today’s sermon was, naturally, about St. Thomas, who has (unfairly, I think) gone down in history as Doubting Thomas. Father Costin started out by noting that “Thomas must have been a scientist” — not an unreasonable observation, since Thomas was at the very least an empiricist, someone who wanted to check out for himself the claim of the other Apostles. But from there, he segued into his real topic: What actually is reality? Is it the reality of the everyday, the bills, the house, the kids, work, school? Or is it the reality of Christ, of the kingdom to come, the unbelievable certainty of the Resurrection and the life of relationship with one another in Christ?

And it’s this life of relationship with one another in Christ that leads me to pose my question about dissonance and reality. I think I have mentioned that besides being a theoretical physicist (!!!), Father also trained as a classical musician — his parents, he says, wanted him to be a pianist, and listening to him play Bach is its own education. So he frames a lot of his own experience either in terms of science (as in his observation about Thomas) or in terms of music. A few weeks ago, in our weekly Bible study, we were talking about transgressions, and he described transgressions as “dissonance” — discussing a passage from John, he said that the Greek word for “transgression” was actually better translated as “dissonance.” I mentioned that to a priest I know who is from Greece (the priest to whom I have gone to confession for the past several years), and he blinked, then said, “That’s actually not a bad translation.” I guess he thought of it in other terms, probably having to do with his own training in engineering. (What is it with these scientific guys all going in for the priesthood?!?! My confessor was graduated first in his class from Columbia School of Engineering, no mean feat by any standards! There must be something about Orthodoxy that attracts logical minds, which is quite some recommendation, given the “touchy-feely” aspects of Western Christendom.)

So, back to my own question. The problem I’m having with “transgression” as “dissonance” is this: The relationship between the three Persons of the Trinity is assuredly one of perfect harmony, and is the model towards which we should all strive. When we sin, when we “miss the mark,” to translate the Greek word for sin (amartion), it’s because our relationship with God and with each other is out of whack — it’s “dissonant.” The thing is — in music, dissonance creates interest. When things are constantly in harmony, they’re beautiful, in the same way that plainchant is always beautiful, but the interest in music comes from those seventh chords, where you have a major chord (do-mi-sol) augmented by a minor seventh (a flat ti, to put it in terms of the do-re-mi scale that most folks are familiar with). That flat ti is very dissonant, and its resolution back into harmony is what makes music pleasing to the ear.

Similarly, dissonance in relationships is what makes them interesting. I mean — if we all liked the same thing, all the time, we’d all be in perfect harmony, but do I hear “BOR-ing” screaming through everybody’s brain? Of course I do. It’s our “dissonances” that make us interesting to one another. Similarly, when there’s real conflict between persons, it’s the resolution of that conflict — the resolution of that dissonance — that deepens the relationship.

But what’s niggling at my mind is Father’s sermon. Which reality is real? This world, or the world of the risen Christ? Is dissonance essential to interesting relationships, or is that because we live in this world, and we only think that dissonance is interesting? And, does dissonance deepen our relationship with God, or does it get in the way?

Any takers?


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