Remember all the other resolves
Every year vowed anew,
Sincerely, ardently promised
Over and over again.
Like a sacred litany,
Under solemn oath
To carry out with determination,
Invoked with honor
Over a stack of scriptures.
Now we are ready to try again.
-- Renee Hermanson
In music, when we talk about "resolving a chord," we mean coming to that place in a song where all the notes line up harmonically, or what my music dictionary calls "the concord after discord."
I've often wondered if there is any connection between musical "resolutions" and those promises we make to ourselves and the world at the beginning of each new year. I also wonder how different the verb "resolve" is from just plain "solve."
Other than the silly sound of announcing one's New Year's "solutions," there is a big difference between the two words. When you are trying to solve something -- a puzzle, math problem, etc. -- you are searching for a solution you never had. Also, once you find the answer you will have it forever. Four times two will always be eight. You don't have to do the math again. The act of resolving, however, by the simple prefix "re" indicates doing something again. You are not just finding an answer, but returning to the one you already knew.
The re-solving principle makes great sense in music. When you begin to sing or play a song, you already know what key it's in. So when you reach the final chord you are simply returning to the "tone center" or primary chord of that key. Musicians and listeners alike then experience what one conductor calls "emotional relief" or, literally, "all's well that ends well."
Applying the music principle to "resolving our differences" or "making New Year's resolutions" also must mean we're not facing a new problem after all, but returning to something we've known or done before. We're only playing out our lives, moving through the dissonance and struggling with the difficult passages that trip us up now and then, as we proceed toward the "emotional relief" that harmony and order restore.
What a comforting thought. If we could grasp in all our strivings that we are only returning to a former state, rather than trying to achieve something new and totally beyond us, our New Year's resolutions might be easier to reach. Losing 20 pounds, then, means there was a time when we weighed less, so perhaps we can do it again. Stopping smoking or any habit we'd like to discontinue indicates there was a time when we didn't do whatever we'd like to stop doing now.
Every analogy, they say, breaks down somewhere, and this approach to making a fresh start at the beginning of another year may not work, either. For some of us it isn't just 20 pounds we'd like to lose or one behavior we'd like to change, but much more. It was also easier to weigh less before the pounds went on, or refrain from something we've never done before.
But I still like this approach. Knowing something has been done before, especially that you or I have done it, makes whatever we are striving for possible. Like the song says, "Got along without you before I met you, gonna get along without you now."
But for those of us accustomed to basing our lives on the poet's "stack of scriptures" (see above), we have far more assistance in keeping our resolutions than just a lesson in semantics. Jesus himself, after his disciples fell asleep during his Gethsemane prayer, recognized that "the spirit is willing but the flesh is weak" (Matthew 26:40-41).
Yet he didn't stop by merely pointing out their flaws. All through his ministry he reminded them to "take my yoke upon you and learn of me... for my yoke is easy and my burden is light" (Matthew 11:28-30). Later the Apostle Paul summarized all of Jesus' teachings when he wrote, "I can do all things through (Jesus) Christ who strengthens me" (Philippians 4:13).
Whatever you resolve to "get along without" this year, I wish you success -- not in doing the impossible, or struggling in your own strength alone, but by seeking help from the Lord, "who gives generously to all (who ask) without finding fault" (James 1:5).
(Barbara Seaborn is a local freelance writer. E-mail comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.)
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