Not too long ago, several of us were praying over some recent high-school graduates; two of them. Both of these young people have artistic aspects to their natures. I only knew of them having no previous personal acquaintance with them. My impressions related to their familiarity with arts are therefore not founded in first-hand knowledge. The others who were praying for them knew at least one of the two fairly well and I sensed a general sensitivity to “the arts” in the prayer offerings. That disclaimer completed, I want to share some impressions with you. These impressions are of a general kind. They are not a treatise on the scientific nature of things. They have to do with our interactions with the Creation.
Art that is enjoyed primarily with the auditory organs is generally thought of as music. There are other auditory experiences but generally when we put together ideas of sound and art, we think of music. Music theory is by no means a field of mine. I know of music mostly in that I usually know when I am out of tune. I have enjoyed music over my lifetime and have had a fair amount of involvement in choral enterprises of various sorts, particularly in my early adult years. I had a heavy exposure to physics as an undergraduate student and picked up some stuff about wavelengths and so forth in that endeavor. The physics should reinforce the actual experience of music but it takes a whole lot of knowledge to really understand the relationships between what we call music and the physical theory behind it.
Early on, perhaps as early as the third grade, I was exposed to the musical scale that was used to practice sounds of various pitches in a fixed configuration. We were taught by rote to hear the “spaces” between notes by using a series of sounds: do – re – mi – fa – sol – la – ti – do. These sounds carry us through what is called an octave. It’s called an octave because there are eight sounds in it and octem is the Latin word for the number eight. In western ideas of music generally, this idea of the eight point scale underlies music theory. The octave opens and closes with the same note so to speak, so the “do” is used at both ends. That leaves seven sounds inside the octave, because the first and last are considered the same.
Another, somewhat more advanced, way of looking at that is the use of the letters of the alphabet. We use the letters A B C D E F G to accomplish the same thing in written form as the sounds in the previous paragraph. Hence, if we go past “ti,” we repeat “do” and if we go past G, we repeat A in our representations.
So, wither way we want to indicate the basic set of harmonic sounds, we end up with seven “whole notes.”
Art that is enjoyed primarily through the visual organs relies on several dimensions, one of which is what we call “color.” Other factors are shape, size, contrast, composition and such. But let’s focus on color. After the flood, when God wanted to commit to some things with Noah, He presented a phenomenon called a rainbow. To this day, rainbows are the same. They occur in an arc seen in the sky. We can artificially create the equivalent of a rainbow in other ways, but let’s focus on the sky-born reminder of God’s communication with man.
In my undergraduate years learning (or trying to) physics, I was also exposed to quite a bit of information concerning light. Different colors are just different wavelengths of light interacting with our optical mechanisms. It turns out there is a fairly fixed range of light wavelengths that can be “seen” by human eyes. We can “see” all the wavelengths within that range when our optical organs function per design. Other critters can actually see different ranges by the way. Anyway, if your eyes are functioning properly and you are exposed to light of any particular wavelength in the so-called “visible range,” you will see that light as a particular color. Now, we don’t have names for every one of those possible wavelengths of light. We actually have a fairly small number of fixed names for groups of those wavelengths. For one person a particular wavelength light might be in one color specification and in a different color specification for another person when the wavelength is near the end of one general color.
I go back to the third grade again – perhaps even earlier. Back there before I ever heard of the word physics, we memorized what was called the “colors of the rainbow.” I’m sure you did too. We were taught to see the rainbow as a fixed series of color specifications with the mnemonic ROYGBIV. You know; red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo and violet. For the most part we can distinguish these colors when we see a rainbow. Note there are seven color specifications in this little device. All rainbows present the seven colors in the same fixed sequence. One “side” of the bow is Red and the opposite side is Violet. That doesn’t change for us.
In biblical numerology, the number “7” is generally thought of as representing completeness. God completed the creation in 7 days, including the day of rest. The week has seven days. Jesus dictated letters to 7 (types of) churches. There are numerous other sevens in the book of Revelation (bowls, seals and so forth), probably because they represent the completion of things.
As the time of prayer for the new graduates came to an end, I felt strongly that I should say to them (and did so): “seven sounds and seven colors, go figure.” Isn’t God so full of wonderful mystery?