You’re on my mind when you and I in the same pew recite the same words to the Nicene Creed, once again. You and I and the other sixty voices in the congregation on this morning join in one voice: “We believe in one God….” I’m not sure I believe in one God, or in the same God you believe in, but I love the sound of your voice in step with mine, and ours following the lead of our priest’s. We all know the cadence and the volume and the inflections that make this Creed resonate.
I wonder if I’m the hypocrite for mouthing these words while you believe all that you’re saying, as must our priest. Or maybe you’re a doubter too. Whether you’re a believer or a doubter, I’ve grown fond of your voice and the ragged mix of voices around us, fond of the vibrations that run through my body and sometimes my soul. I love the safe intimacy of our prose chorus.
So why do we come together like this to say these words? If you think it’s for the content of the holy word, watch what happens when the Gospel Choir launches into their hand-clapping, body-rocking “I’ve been saved.” I can’t tell you all the lyrics, and I’ve never been saved in that way, but I sing along anyway. When the melody is irresistible, we make up the words. Voices in unison penetrate like no sermon ever can. It’s what we come for and what we take away. We go home feeling moved down deep, in the marrow.
The secular way of understanding this phenomenon is that as a species, we humans are wired for harmonizing with others. The hardwiring of our auditory neurons and our auditory cortex defines what we consider pleasing tones or grating noise, according a recent study . The best proof of the universality of this fact about the human central nervous system is the existence of The World Choir Games. Even when we can’t speak to each other, we can sing to each other. Across all barriers of language and culture, we can sing to each other. The beauty of harmony may be rooted in its survival value.
We have such an instinct for language and communication that we can hardly live without it. We celebrate our most powerful moments in song, chant, and cheers. We torture our enemies and our sinners by depriving them of contact, through solitary confinement—breaking the tough minds with silence. For me, as a form of worship, as a celebration of what helps us survive week to week and over the eons, it’s enough to join voices with you.