Full disclosure: As of right now (second day into 2020), I’m absolutely terrified about this new year. Legitimately, like to the point of periodic paralysis (I think they’re called panic attacks), as if I’m one of those freezing goats. I’m stuck between the end of one year that brought about SO much, the end of one decade that brought about even more, and the beginning of so much new.
New and unknown.
I think that’s why there’s such a tendency towards New Year’s Resolutions. New year, new you. Time to get things right, finally. Looking ever forward, in last year’s nests there are no birds this year. And it makes sense. We long for order—for a narrative. Structure. And there’s something about points in time like a New Year, the end of one period and the beginning of another, that just resonates with that longing; like a chapter break, and then a new chapter.
So we resolve particular things. In one sense of the word, we hope to end (bring resolution) things we didn’t like. And then we resolve other particular things. In the other sense of the word, we “commit” (make a resolution) to things we want for ourselves. I put commit in quotes because that’s always the issue, isn’t it. The commitment part.
So we believe in making New Years Resolutions. Ultimately, to bettering ourselves and our lives.
And that’s my point. I don’t think we don’t need resolutions. But what we need is a different definition of resolution. A different understanding of it. Because I believe what we really long for isn’t better, but harmony. Perhaps an end to disharmony in our lives, to discord, and to reach or achieve true harmony.
Music is based on a seven chord scale (7 has interesting connotations, like the seven days of creation). In a major chord, there’s…perfect harmony. But in a minor chord, one note is one half step off. The minor chord makes us long for the major chord; the minor chord evokes a longing for harmony. Basically, it evokes a longing for completion.
The discord (or perhaps, dis-chord) causes us to long for harmony, for completion. And in music, the term for this is resolution. When that major chord is reached, it’s called a resolution.
Harmony is resolution.
“It goes like this, the fourth, the fifth, the minor fall and the major lift.”
The baffled king composing hallelujah.
That’s what’s being talked about in that song. The fourth to the fifth. The minor fall and the major lift. It’s talking about the progression from disharmony to harmony.
It’s talking about resolution.
When the minor falls, do you stop there?
In the film Sister Act, Deloris Van Cartier (Whoopi Goldberg) is put in a convent as a form of witness protection. She’s told to lay low. To keep quiet. This is only temporary, and then she can get her old life back.
And she ends up changing everything. But more than that, she ends up being changed by everything.
See, as the clip above reveals, the choir is horrible. Out of tune. Unstructured. Disharmonious.
And everyone hates it. Well, actually, everyone hates it, but is content to leave things the way they are. To just deal with the horribleness of it, the discord.
Eventually, Deloris (called Sister Mary Clarence in the convent) gets placed in the choir, and takes it upon herself to correct it. You see, she’s not supposed to stand out, she’s just to lay low and not get too involved. But she can’t help it. So she takes charge, and turns discord into harmony.
She brings about resolution.
But it doesn’t look exactly like how everyone wants it to look.
She brings harmony, but with funk. She brings harmony, but it’s unbridled.
She brings harmony, and in a word, it means freedom. Even if freedom is uncomfortable.
And freedom is not what everyone wants. Because freedom can FEEL like chaos, it can SEEM like discord. Which can easily be confused with discomfort.
But harmony is freeing. And freedom is contagious.
Basically, in the film Sister Act, when “the minor” fell (for Deloris Van Cartier), she didn’t stop there. She didn’t settle. She kept going to the major lift.
She kept going THROUGH the discord (dis-chord), until the harmony. Even if she and everyone else suffered through discomfort for it.
That’s an important point to zero in on:
Discomfort can feel like discord, but it doesn’t always mean that those two things are one and the same.
If all you’re used to is discord—if all you’re used to is disharmony—then harmony can absolutely BE uncomfortable.
I always connected to Whoopi Goldberg’s character in the Sister Act films. That feeling of being stifled. That longing to not be stifled. And then finding yourself in that very position. In everything I’ve done in my life, I’ve wanted to bring about the freedom that she brings in those films. To bring harmony, and also funk.
Because freedom is harmonious. But I like to think it’s also funky.
If you’ve never allowed yourself to truly be free, well then once you experience freedom truly, it can truly make you uncomfortable. But would you rather be uncomfortably free, or comfortably not free? To be king of your own castle, but one that’s a prison.
Maybe we’re all “the baffled king”… (or at least start out as such)
Because all of this feels so baffling, particularly to someone like me who tends to find comfort in knowing.
As I said at the beginning, I’m terrified of this new year.
Personally, there’s a number of reasons why. One of which is the fact that I’m not going to be teaching this coming spring semester, and returning to teach again for summer and fall. But in the meantime, I have no idea what I’m going to do.
I’m finding myself completely baffled. Confused. More to the point, I’m finding myself in discord—disharmony.
The song Hallelujah begins with the verse, “I heard there was a secret chord, that David played and it pleased the Lord.” David is the “baffled king” that later verses are referring to.
With all of my being, I wish I knew that secret chord that pleased the Lord. Because somewhere in my head, I’m convinced that if I get it right, if I can just do something right, I can please the Lord. And MAYBE, just maybe, if I do that, I’ll not be so terrified, because I know I’ll be taken care of.
And I won’t have to worry.
I’ll only be free when I get it right. When I get ME, right.
I don’t want to be the baffled king. And I don’t want to keep living in the minor fall.
But maybe it’s because I don’t really want to “compose hallelujah.” (In the Hebrew texts, “hallelujah” basically means “praise God” or “to praise God”) Or at least, I don’t want to be “composing hallelujah” in disharmony.
I want harmony. Without suffering through being baffled.
I want harmony without the hallelujah. I want harmony without praising God.
Because harmony in disharmony doesn’t make sense in my logic and reason and need for structure and narrative. Because praising God in discord is difficult. Hell, it’s more than difficult. It’s practically hell.
How do you exist as a baffled king, and also compose hallelujah?
When you find yourself the baffled king, it feels like your voice has been taken from you. You don’t want to sing. You feel like you can’t sing. Like maybe your song has been taken from you…
In Sister Act 2, Deloris Van Cartier is put in a similar position and role as she was in the first film (only this time, it’s her choice to do so; she knows her role): namely, to bring harmony to disharmony. To turn discord into resolution. And she does it again. Because again, harmony spreads.
But at the end of the film, as the high school choir is set to compete, another school has sung their song (“Joyful, Joyful”). One student in particular, Lauren Hill’s character, has been repeatedly told that nothing will come from her singing. Which seems true of the choir as a whole. To an inner city school and its population, maybe that’s true. Nevertheless, when all seems lost, when it’s all pointless, the choir sings.
More than that, they allow themselves to be free. Instead of being what they should be (as we try to make ourselves with our New Years Resolutions), they simply allow themselves to be themselves. They don’t change themselves (make themselves).
And maybe that’s exactly the point.
That harmony IS composing hallelujah when all is lost.
What if harmony is “composing hallelujah” in disharmony?
I have no clue what this year will bring. Not least of which for me, let alone for you either. But the question I pose to you is the same question I pose to myself:
How willing are you to be the baffled king, and compose hallelujah?
I think we need New Years Resolutions. Or perhaps just resolution. What we need is an end to discord. Harmony.
Is it worth it?
Is it worth the discomfort?
What if you had to take off your robes, or your fig leaves? What if it requires you being you? All of you? Exposed?
What if resolution requires vulnerability?
“Put on anything you want, if we’re gonna go out there, we’re gonna go out there comfortable.”
Meaning, we’re gonna go out there FREE.
Or maybe it’s going out there that’ll make us comfortable. Eventually.
So if you find yourself in turmoil this New Year, in strife, in discord and disharmony, remember Sister Act (1 and 2). Don’t try to change yourself. Or strive to be what you think you SHOULD be.
Surrender to the song.
Let it overtake you.
Because if you keep singing, Resolution will come. The minor falls, the major lifts.
And harmony will come.
And freedom will come.
And it’ll be contagious.
And it’ll be funky.
And above all, it’ll be joyful.
3 responses to “This New Year Needs More Sister Act”
I thought you were teaching in this upcoming semester, it’s a bummer, but whatever you do end up doing, I’m certain that your minor fall will lead to a MAJOR lift.
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