On the Corner

Peace and harmony

by Robert Docter, Editor-In-Chief –

This list of things desired as essential was found in Old St. Paul’s church, Baltimore, and was dated 1692. In the struggle for peace in our lives the advice has relevance for us even today.
We know it as:


Go placidly among the noise and haste, and remember what peace there may be in silence.

As far as possible, without surrender, be on good terms with all persons. Speak your truth quietly and clearly; and listen to others. But if you compare yourself with others, you may become vain and bitter; for always there will be greater and lesser persons than yourself.

Enjoy your achievements as well as your plans. Keep interested in your own career, however humble; it is a real possession in the changing fortunes of time.

Be not blind to what virtue there is; many persons strive for high ideals; and everywhere life is full of heroism.

Be yourself. Especially, do not feign affection. Neither be cynical about love; for in the face of all aridity and disenchantment it is perennial as the grass.

Take kindly the counsel of the years, gracefully surrendering the things of youth. Nurture strength of spirit to shield you in sudden misfortune. But do not distress yourself with imaginings. Many fears are born of fatigue and loneliness. Beyond a wholesome discipline, be gentle with yourself.

You are a child of the universe, no less than the trees and stars; you have a right to be here. And whether or not it is clear to you, no doubt, the universe is unfolding as it should.

Therefore, be at peace with God, whatever you conceive him to be, and whatever your labors and aspirations in the noisy confusion of life, keep peace with your soul. With all its sham, drudgery and broken dreams, it is still a beautiful world.

I once asked Orson Welles to read this passage for an Army Christmas broadcast. I used a full orchestra playing Bach’s Air in G behind his reading. We timed and spaced the reading in a manner to achieve a peaceful mood. Bach’s melody seemed, almost, to be in Welles’ mind as he read even though he had no idea what I would select for underscoring. It was a perfect fit—the majesty of his voice and the Bach Air. It turned out to be one of my most favorite recordings. It never fails to bring peace to my mind and my soul … “It is still a beautiful world.”

Harmony does that—two blending together. There is no such thing as “one-note harmony.” It can’t exist. Welles could have read alone, and it would bring a message based solely on the content, but the mood is enriched powerfully with the music. A chord (and accord) require at least two notes to harmonize. We move through life composing our one-finger melodies searching for others with whom we can harmonize.

Like that Bach Air, the harmony found in some music seems to bring us peace. When this occurs, we are fully present in the music. We bring our meaning to it, and it touches us.

On occasion the harmony is abandoned as the composer intentionally presents discord, dissonance, unanticipated dissension in the pattern of the music. It is “inharmonious.” It’s edgy, tense, unpredictable. It feels unresolved unless the music moves to conclude with traditional harmony. It’s not peaceful, but it’s going somewhere.

It reminds me, somewhat, of the parables of Jesus. In our humanness, we concluded that he never seemed to tell the whole story, and often, he didn’t even explain his thinking. The listener had to interpret it with his or her own “ears” to truly “hear” it. Those to whom he spoke never forgot it.

In life, unfinished matters remain in our memory base longer than those that seem resolved—neatly finished.
Jesus tried to tell us how we could find harmony in our lives—harmony with him and his Father, and harmony with each other as fellow occupants for a time on this rather small planet spinning in orbit in a rather minor galaxy.

Sometimes, we don’t get traditional harmony in our lives. The nature of life introduces tensions, discord and unfinished business. We have tried to compose an harmonious chord in a relationship, and somehow, the notes we project don’t fit. There is only discord—dissonance. We have tried to “go placidly among the noise” and found ourselves composing music that seems moving toward an ending without the resolution we have learned to expect. Often, it seems unfinished as a result of our expectation. It ends this way because this is what we have composed. Even with discord elsewhere, we can always sing a marvelous duet with Jesus.

Occasionally, we create notes in the relationship that sounds ugly. We can’t seem to sing in tune. We need to recognize that music often demands two notes that aren’t intended to sound harmonious. They’re designed to take us somewhere else— maybe simply to push us from safety to growth.

This season, give thanks for the music in our lives and our contributions to the harmony there—and while you’re harmonizing, remember as well …

“Go placidly among the noise and haste and remember what peace there may be in silence.”

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