I will never be able to read this psalm without thinking of the late Dr. Henry Schellenberg. I had the privilege of singing in his choir for three years when I was a student at Providence College. In our repertoire was a piece composed by his friend and colleague Dr. Bill Derksen entitled Psalm 133. Its words come straight from the text and the interweaving of its melody and harmonies are illustrative of the precious anointing oil running down Aaron’s beard and the dew of Hermon falling on the mountains of Zion.
If you’ve ever listened to or sung in a choir, appreciated the resolution of tones in an orchestral piece, or simply delighted in any harmonic blending of voices and instruments, perhaps you will understand the appropriateness of a choral piece put to these words. Music, especially music that employs many voices or instruments working together, reveals the goodness and beauty of the unity described here.
All of us know the discomfort of dissonance. When tones clash instead of blend, we long for their resolution. In resolution we experience peace, satisfaction, and rest. So too in our closest relationships, among those we call family. We are made for peace, and when peace is elusive, we feel it deeply. When David describes the goodness of unity, he uses three images that are outside of our context, but for the Israelite people they would have elicited joy, peace, hope, and a sense of purpose. When we dwell in unity, we point to God and to the promise of everlasting life.
Dr. Schellenberg passed away on February 20, 2013 after a difficult battle with brain cancer. The summer before, on August 7, when he was still functioning relatively well but the inevitable was in sight, some alumni organized an evening of singing under his esteemed direction. I am grateful to have been part of it. Psalm 133 was one of the pieces we sang, a testament to Dr. Schellenberg’s legacy of teaching us what unity looks like, sounds like, and feels like. He trained us to move as one body with many parts, to listen to one another so we could. Unity does not assume uniformity. Rather, it is the coming together of unique voices toward one purpose with the recognition that each voice contributes to the creation of something more beautiful and more powerful than it could by itself.