As the planet rides toward perihelion (the day of nearest approach to the sun, approximately January 3), I am thinking about cycles. Our lives have countless cycles. They come in different frequencies—some are singular arcs (such as from childhood to the second childhood of old age), some last a year (perihelion to aphelion and back again), and some happen several times a minute (breathing, blinking). At any moment each of us is somewhere between troughs of a countless number of cycles.
Our behavior goes in cycles too, each cycle a sine wave, more or less: upslope, the peak, downslope, trough. Any repetition is a cycle, so our rising and retiring, our coming and going, our exercise habits make waves. The patterns of our choices are in some measure a wave of a particular frequency.
What if we could hear these frequencies? You know the orchestra tunes their instruments to the oboe playing A above middle C, which these days is around 440 Hz (cycles per second), though some orchestras tune higher. Our cycles have a frequency that could convert to pitch. What if the cycles of our lives are creating music, a song of praise? Our cycles fall far short of the 440 cycles per second, but now imagine your life played for an ear that could register all those frequencies. I like the idea that the story of my life resonates in sound.
The psalmist says creation sings praise. Notice each of these has a cyclical rhythm: The tide ebbs and flows. Fields are planted and harvested. Trees sway, develop fruit, and lose leaves.
Let the heavens rejoice, and let the earth be glad;
let the sea roar, and the fulness thereof.
Let the field be joyful, and all that is therein:
then shall all the trees of the wood rejoice
Before the Lord: for he cometh….
(Psalm 96:11-13, KJV)
We are not likely to encounter pure sine waves in nature, but every pitch has a regular pattern. Musical instruments vary in their capacity to produce overtones which make distinctive alterations to the fundamental frequency. Overtones give each instrument, each voice, each animal its distinctive timbre. Each human voice is unique, an aural fingerprint.
The unique sound of your life, then, is performed by the interplay of all your cycles. The members of your home travel the same waves in some regards—the same path around the sun, the return to church each week, supper at the table each evening—but in other ways you differ. The journey Mom makes through the business of the day has turnings that are different for Dad, the teenager, or the baby. When schedules fit smoothly together or when give and take create a pleasing dance, we say we have harmony in the home. Our unique harmonics give our homes distinctly different qualities.
Color has frequency, too, and when I told my son what I planned to write about, he whipped out his phone and showed me an app which converts sound into color. Here is the sound of my house in an uncharacteristically quiet moment. The trickle of the water fountain makes random lines, while the sound of its motor plays in the background.
The screen capture at the top of the article shows “Jingle bells, jingle bells, jingle all the way.” Note the obvious harmonics showing for each tone and the vibrato of the singer. (See above.)
One more. This capture shows two things: the “white noise” of the sound “Shhhhhhhhhh,” and the falling glissando “Ahhhhhh.” Here, again, the overtones are easy to spot.
The year’s cycle is coming to an end and we are looking ahead into our next turn through the months. Our lives have meaning and coherence, even if they do not take the form of a soundscape or a colorful tapestry. On New Year’s Eve we are inclined to review the past year for patterns of God’s mercies and to think about where we are going. Have you made a record of the highlights of the year? Late in December my habit is to comb through my plan book and journal and to write down noteworthy events. On December 30 or 31, I will read them to the family. We laugh and wonder and add some more. We take time to read last year’s notes about what we hoped to accomplish this year. On New Year’s Day we get new calendars and write down the character qualities we want to see develop, identifying a new habit or two to get us closer to it.
May your contemplation at the turning of the year bring you insight, joy, and thanksgiving.