After Rumi

“You are song.”
Each of you – you are song.

Your breath: God

breathing you;

your stillness: God

stilling you;

your quest: God

filling you.

 
Your life is light birthed from earth
your sleep is snow blanketing the dark
your laughter lights stars and
your kiss caresses death to life.

You are song, sung
by God to joy the world.

Siege Song

Monday night our book club had the rare opportunity of having an author in  attendance.  Tamas Dobozy was with us as we discussed his acclaimed book Seige 13.  The book narrates the experiences of the Hungarians who endure the brutal occupation of Budapest in 1944.   Dobozy spoke of his experience as a child of a survivor, and as a member of the Hungarian expat community in Canada.  He gave us some background to the book, and as we queried him on the occasion of its writing, and the manner of its genesis, he spoke eloquently of the strange place of being in a community that has known trauma, and knows how to suppress it.

 

He spoke of the power of narrative as a tool to orient survivors of horrors.  He spoke of the gratitude of his community for his telling of the tale.  He, and we all, spoke of the manner in which communities suppress how they both have been done wronged and what they have done wrong.  Regarding the latter, he spoke of the manner in which Jews, the Roma, and homosexuals were betrayed in the era under consideration.  Evil endured and evil perpetuated – alike – were left unspoken.

 

Along the way, I asked him about the role of song, and the role of artists in the time leading up to the siege, and the time after.  He spoke of the heroic example of Bartók, who eloquently and passionately bore witness to the wrong of abuse both endured and perpetuated by the Hungarian people.  Bartók refused to be honoured by any plaque, or street name, or bust in his home country as long as fascists or communists were in charge.  During the war he escaped to the USA, where he died.

 

As I walked home afterwards, I wondered: how is it that artists are so often able to see clearly what others cannot, or refuse to see?  How is it that they find the courage to speak out when others keep quiet in the face of what they know should not be countenanced?  What well-spring of courage do they access that others of us seem to miss out on?  What do they imbibe while working at the arts, at what many consider to be decorative excess to the real stuff of life?

 

Of course there are always many unsung heros in times of siege and reigns of terror.  Quietly, many a mite has gnawed at the might of empires.  This must be recognized, but still, still, we do well to listen to our bards; to look deeply into the masterpieces of our contemporaries; to pay attention to our poets.  All of these have courage with their ear to the ground.  Here they hear slow trains coming, some of which have designs on deportation.

Just Singing

I just returned, late last night, from a worship symposium held at Calvin College in Grand Rapids, Michigan. I belong to a choir called Inshallah, based at the school where I work: Waterloo Lutheran Seminary. Inshallah sings the songs of our neighbours around the world, especially – although not restricted to – the global south. The songs reflect the reality of the communities of their provenance: poor and yet rich with a deep joy; marginalized and yet attentive to a sustained realization of hope; victimized and yet marked by a sure grasp by and of the Reign of God. Our choir is led by Debbie Lou Ludolph, who inspires and coaxes beauty out of some 120 voices, which includes some – such as mine – that have little or no formal musical training. About 70 of us made our way to Calvin, where we gave two workshops and led one evening prayer service.

We travelled by bus, which is always a rich way to be together as a community. A certain comradery evolves in the gift of losing control of our transit and handing it over to the bus driver and tour coordinator. A kind of ebb and flow ensues between busy chatter, and then hushed attention to books, or the scenery, or the evolving landscape of a mind en route. The odd nap envelops those so inclined. You have opportunity to know people differently in this venue.

The symposium was rich. I learned much, met some wondrous folk, and had opportunity to grow more deeply into our repertoire and its community of singers. It strikes me, increasingly, that at the heart of justice is the task of simply being together. Song enables the singers to be together, a phenomenon we experienced anew over the weekend. But as our choir director regularly reminds us, the songs themselves also provide us with a bridge to those who sing them in their own context so that we can be with them, in a fashion. She asked me to provide a blessing which reflected the content of some of these songs at the end of the Vespers service we led. I offer it here for you.

May the creating God, who covets your brokenness, meet you deep in the world’s wounds.
May the crucified God, whose arms wrap the world round, draw your circle wide.
May the spiriting God, who is our grace, our peace, make of you peacemakers.
And may you rest forever blessed in our God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.