The Symphony of Comprehension
by S. M. Hutchens
There's a little girl in our church, severely retarded, who likes to sing with the congregation. She can't come close to carrying a tune, and what she produces is a kind of croaking descant that enters and leaves the hymns at odd and unpredictable intervals. It's not tuneful in any recognizable sense, but in a way difficult to describe it seems to belong, and not simply because she is one of us and "it takes all kinds." As far as her singing is not part of the music, the congregation carries her along, and as far as it is, there is a larger aesthetic picture in view, of which it is a mysterious and inexplicably authentic part. As such, it points beyond the song itself to the transcendent ground of music, from which come things that are part of our songs but that also draw us beyond them to music's very font.
When I was younger, I would have regarded her noises as something charitably to be borne, would congratulate myself for putting up with them, and hope things could be arranged so she would go happily away—but I'm getting old now and can hear and see quite a bit better than I used to. The universe under divine governance is becoming larger and less comprehensible to my present sensorium, and I am feeling the need for better equipment. It occurs to me that with respect to a great many more things than a little girl's song, we are dealing with larger pictures than we can take in when we try to order our perceptions on "what belongs" in the many things we have been given to contemplate to that end.
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S. M. Hutchens is a Touchstone senior editor.
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