People are rhythmic creatures; we can't help but do things in concert.
Something within us or about us compels us to coordinate our movements with sight and sound. We watch our peers performing corporate gestures, we hear the steady thump of distant music, we try our best to sing the hymns, we march in time to battle. Like swirling schools of fish or clouds of birds in flight, we want to be in sync with one another, indeed our social and personal survival depends on it.
There's a passage in Barbara J. McClure's Emotions: problems and promise for human flourishing in which the author explores ideas from William H. McNeill's Keeping Together in Time. McClure summarizes and analyzes McNeill's concept of "muscular bonding" in relation to other social-scientific perspectives on the generation, experience, and significance of emotions. Muscular bonding is, according to McClure, a "shared embodied and emotional effect of keeping together in time; it is a 'sense that the group is one…' This muscular and emotional bonding endows members with a capacity for cooperation, it makes collective tasks far more efficient, and it increases individuals' investment in and commitments to one another" (McClure 106). McClure ties this idea beautifully into supporting research from attachment and human development theorists about the "open loop" feedback systems of infant physiology. We are creatures utterly incapable of surviving on our own for our first months of life, so through imitation and emotional communication, we literally learn to be people. This process is as intimate as the beating of our hearts. "Research suggests that in utero the sound of the mother's heartbeat helps regulate the electromagnetic pulses of the infant's heart, training it, in effect, to pulse with the rhythm that will sustain its life" (ibid.). We learn to be living things through rhythmic accompaniment, and when we are able, we dance our societies into being with one another.
Despite our best efforts to maintain some sort of normal, sustaining common motion in isolation (whether through online worship, classes, zoom calls with loved ones, or simply going out now and then to buy food), our collective mobile bonding has been interrupted by the pandemic. This interruption can seriously impact our emotional wellbeing and compel personal reflection on our selves, our social circumstances, and our daily living. And while the grandiose scale of corporate spiritual formations and battles make them exciting topics of conversation, this season has me hung up on a common movement of another sort.
I've written before on The Critter about my fixation with rain. You can't live in South Florida for any length of time without water coming to dominate some portion of your conscious thought. Typically at this time of year, the air would grow progressively hotter and muggier. Snowbirds (denoting actual birds who have a right to be here and humans who I wish never arrived) would be flying north in droves. Our streets would be emptying. And the rains would start. Ninety-five degree, sunny days would give way to dense black thunderheads between 3:00 and 4:00 pm every day without variance, and blessed torrents would crash down on us from above.
I'm missing that yearly ritual. The rich people leave, the locals come out, the kids stay home, the rain comes back. Our sickness has displaced the human steps in that dance, and ever-worsening droughts are stalling our ecological rhythms. It's hard for me to know it's almost May with our home like this. It's hard for me to remember what I'm doing like this. It's hard for me to feel like myself like this.
In all the disorientation, I still find moments of comfort, though. Knowing I had online worship to attend this morning, I set my alarm a little earlier to make us coffee and breakfast before the service. I never had a chance to hit the snooze, however, because I was awake before it rang—happily laying in bed, listening to the thunder.