I love to sing. But let me get something straight here. I’ve got what might best be described as a voice made for a choir. I can hit the right pitch, read music, adjust my dynamics, and really belt it out. Put me with a few dozen other singers, and we can really make some lovely sounds. But pull me out of the choir, put a microphone in front of me, and ask me to carry the tune solo, and we’ve got a recipe for disaster.
I’m even more limited when asked to sing anything other than melody. I learned fairly early on that not only was I unable to pick out the harmony part by ear, even when placed next to other tenors who were also singing harmony, I had trouble sticking with them. I naturally gravitated over to the melody part. Unfortunate for anything but unison singing, to say the least.
But, oh how lovely can harmony be! I was in church the other week, and the congregation was singing “Amazing Grace,” when one of the female vocalists came in on the final verse with a gorgeous harmony part. I was struck then, as I am nearly every time I hear a good harmony vocal, how the beauty of a harmony vocal can illuminate even the most familiar of songs. The melody is sharper, clearer, and it sings more beautifully, because of it. It was like hearing the song for the first time.
Here’s a confession I’m hoping you might resonate with: for much of my life, I’ve had a tendency to view my talents and creative giftings with a good deal of insecurity, as if the fact that my gifts weren’t incredible, world-changing, or spectacular – especially when compared with certain others – they weren’t worth sharing at all. Too often, I’ve found myself paralyzed by the anxiety over coming up short, being discovered to be not quite good enough with my creative giftings. As a result, I’m forgone the whole endeavor and remained silent, my microphone switched off, my mouth shut.
But it strikes me I’m looking at this gift thing all wrong. Instead of seeing myself as the one singing the melody, the one out front carrying the tune, I should be seeing myself as the one singing harmony. God’s work was begun a long time ago, and will continue long after I am gone. But the miraculous mystery of being made imago dei, in the image of God, is that we are given the beautiful opportunity to be sub-creators, to sing harmony along with his beauteous melody. All we have to do is listen daily, hourly, for the melody, and go after it.
To quote Keating, who quotes Whitman:
The question, O me! so sad, recurring—What good amid these, O me, O life?
That you are here—that life exists and identity,
That the powerful play goes on, and you may contribute a verse.
My friend and pastor Pete Maclauchlan has said that being made in the image of God gives us our purpose in life – to represent him here, to “cultivate and care for Eden, so it can expand, to continue what God has started.” Cultivation sounds like a much more manageable task than creation.
In John 6, Jesus and his disciples are in desperate need to feed a multitude who have gathered to hear him teach and heal. Jesus asks for bread, and Philip suggests the small barley loaves of a boy nearby. “How far will they go among so many?” he asks.
How far indeed?
On its own, my small gift won’t go very far. But when placed in the hands of the Creator? That’s a different story.
So these past few years, I’ve started to see myself as the one with the fish. There are so many to be fed, Jesus looks around, and I’m the little guy standing off to the side, holding up my small gift and saying, “It’s not much, but it’s yours.” I’m the kid with the fish.
I recently read an interview with the actor Andrew Garfield, where he shared the profound and unexpected influence a random street performer had on him while Garfield was filming the recent movie Silence. After reflecting on the impact the performance had on him, Garfield went on to say, “If that guy had stayed in bed saying ‘I have nothing to offer, my voice isn’t that good, I’m not ready to perform in public, I’m not enough,’ if he had listened to those voices, I wouldn’t have been given what I needed.”
We don’t have to be the top of the heap, the best of the best. We don’t have to be the ones singing melody. We can be the ones with the fish, the ones who with our gifts, our unique talents, vision, and life experience, join in the wonderful choir and sing our own beautiful harmony. All we have to do is listen for the melody.