On Dissonance

I’ve never been comfortable with dissonance. I have the cliché need for the song and the chord to resolve. It needs to come back to the 1 (if you’re a Nashville number system follower), the root chord. Maybe it’s that I have an unrefined ear, an inferior taste based more on feeling than creative musical appreciation. Whatever the reason, dissonance makes me crazy. The unresolved chords in my life also threaten to drive me to insanity. I like things to be wrapped up neatly, to have closure, to have their proper label and place. But life is unrelentingly messy. It’s more like the sounds of a symphony warm-up than a flawless performance. There are moments of clarity and beauty, but so much is muddled, smashed up layers of sound that you can barely make sense of.


Life offends my need for neat and tidy. It robs me of that sense of security and settledness that come with having everything organized. But I’m learning to live with the dissonance. I’m learning to hear the beauty and complexity in the notes life plays for me. I can’t quite sort through all the layers, but there are certain major parts I can follow, the basslines, and they provide the foundation I need in order to trust and let go. The bassline of “God is good,” and “God is love,” is the one that holds me together. There can be competing melody lines in the upper register, but if I tune my ear to the foundation again, I can be at peace.

Sometimes, to be quite honest, I have to tune certain parts out altogether. It’s not helpful for me to try to take in the screeching violin and clanging cymbal at every moment. It may be necessary to recognize it’s happening, but my attention must always stay fixed on the bassline.

Another part I can’t lose is that we are all made in God’s image, all of us an overflow of God’s powerful, creative love. When this part gets drowned out everything gets wonky. And sometimes it seems that the rest of the orchestra is actively trying to drown out these parts. But I can’t let myself be fooled.

In the symphony of life, I’ll never be able to perfectly sort through it all. But if I live purposely atuned to the foundational things—God is love; We are all made in God’s image, by and for love—I will experience beauty amidst the dissonance.

“Let love be your highest goal.”

--1 Corinthians 14:1