Quote for Today: Frank Bidart

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The gestures poems make are the same as the gestures of ritual injunction — curse; exorcism; prayer; underlying everything perhaps, the attempt to make someone or something live again. Both poet and shaman make a model that stands for the whole. Substitution, symbolic substitution. The mind conceives that something lived, or might live. Implicit is the demand to understand. The memorial that is ward and warning. Without these ancient springs poems are merely more words.

Frank Bidart, Metaphysical Dog

Image by Stefan Keller from Pixabay

Quote for Today: Elie Wiesel

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Why do you pray?” he asked me, after a moment.

Why did I pray? A strange question. Why did I live? Why did I breathe?

“I don’t know why,” I said, even more disturbed and ill at ease. “I don’t know why.”

After that day I saw him often. He explained to me with great insistence that every question possessed a power that did not lie in the answer. “Man raises himself toward God by the questions he asks Him,” he was fond of repeating. “That is the true dialogue. Man questions God and God answers. But we don’t understand His answers. We can’t understand them. Because they come from the depths of the soul, and they stay there until death. You will find the true answers, Eliezer, only within yourself!”

“And why do you pray, Moshe?” I asked him. “I pray to the God within me that He will give me the strength to ask Him the right questions.”

Elie Wiesel, Night

Public Domain Image via Pixabay

Quote for Today: Margaret Atwood

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There were places you didn’t want to walk, precautions you took that had to do with locks on windows and doors, drawing the curtains, leaving on lights. These things you did were like prayers; you did them and you hoped they would save you. And for the most part they did. Or something did; you could tell by the fact that you were still alive.
Margaret Atwood, The Handmaid’s Tale
Image © rohit gowaikar with CCLicense

Quote for Today: John Steinbeck

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“This here ol’ man jus’ lived a life an’ just died out of it. I don’ know whether he was good or bad, but that don’t matter much. He was alive, an’ that’s what matters. An’ now he’s dead, an’ that don’t matter. Heard a fella tell a poem one time, an’ he says All that lives is holy. Got to thinkin’, an’ purty soon it means more than the words says. An’ I wouldn’t pray for a ol’ fella that’s dead. He’s awright. He got a job to do, but it’s all laid out for im an’ there’s on’y one way to do it. But us, we got a job to do, an’ they’s a thousan’ ways, an’ we don’ know which one to take. An’ if I was to pray, it’d be for the folks that don’ know which way to turn. Grampa here, he got the easy straight. An’ now cover im up an let im get to his work.”

―Casy in The Grapes of WrathJohn Steinbeck
 Tollund Man, Public Domain Image

Quote for Today: Zeena Schreck

Many secular observers and spiritual practitioners alike mistake mystical chanting as a kind of anthropological curiosity or interesting musical diversion from secular mainstream entertainment, sometimes labeling it ‘world’ or ‘folk’ music. But uttering or chanting spells, mantras or prayers shouldn’t be regarded as a romantic excursion to a distant past, or faraway place, or as an escape from our everyday stresses, for relaxation or entertainment. These sounds are meant to be experienced as the timeless unity of energy currents. The chanting of ancient esoteric sounds enables us to realize we are never separate from the one continuously existing omnipresent vibration of the cosmos.

Reverent Strength: The Soulful Mbira of Hope Masike

Competition is distilled from survival instincts. Ironically, it may destroy our chance for survival. Can the arts help change this?

The mbira, or thumb piano is a traditional musical instrument found in many places on the African continent. It consists of a wooden board fitted with metal tines which are plucked with the thumbs, producing a sound not unlike a music box. Due to the rhythmic complexity of mbira music, some listeners get the impression that more than one instrument is being played at the same time.

Mbira dzavadzimu in a deze (Calabash shell) © Alex Weeks with CCLicense

Mbira dzavadzimu in a deze (Calabash shell)
© Alex Weeks with CCLicense

The national instrument of Zimbabwe is the mbira dzavadzimu, or voice of the ancestors. It originated among the Shona people and is identified by them as a sacred instrument, used in ceremonies that communicate with the dead. These ceremonies are called bira. Led by mbira music, participants enter a trancelike state in which the dead speak through them and may answer questions that pertain to the welfare of the tribe.  Buttons, shells or bottle caps called machachara are attached to the mbira to create a buzzing sound that is purported to call ancestral spirits. For greater resonance, the instrument is placed inside of a hollowed out calabash squash, called a deze.

During the course of Zimbabwe’s history, the mbira dzavadzimu was taken up by missionaries and converts to Christianity. A genre called mbira gospel resulted, as people combined their traditional music with new beliefs, enlisting the soothing power of the thumb piano to spread their message. This has created two camps of mbira musicians: Shona and Christian, both of which consider themselves the traditional art form and both of which are resistant to new, western inspired innovation and technology.

Here is a traditional performance by mbira artist Hope Masike. The song is called Hondo, or War, and is a lament for those who have suffered from political unrest, military action and AIDS/HIV. It is heartrending in its understatement and transparent beauty, highlighted by the calls of animals along the lakeshore in Johannesburg, South Africa. It makes me misty-eyed.

Video via Werner Puntigam on YouTube.

Hope Masike is a marvelous singer and gifted song writer. She is steeped in the traditional music of her native Zimbabwe, specifically mbira music, but reaches out to include more modern elements, incurring the wrath of those who would prefer to keep the traditional art “pure”. She is Christian, but sees great value in reaching across the divide to unify mbira music and to move people of differing faiths to prayer.

Video via Hope Masike on YouTube.

This song is Huyai Tinamate, or Come, Let us Pray, a stirring example of mbira gospel. The video couples words from the Bible that exhort the believer to pray through hardships with African mythology concerning the struggle between good and evil. Masike portrays both a benevolent spirit in white and a dark witch companioned by a serpent, as if to say that our best self is always at war with our worst self. This stunning video crosses borders. The world of the Shona and the world of the Christian is acknowledged to be the same world. Both groups seek survival and peace. Can we not find common ground as human beings? Could we pray together?

The requirements for our evolution have changed. Survival is no longer sufficient. Our evolution now requires us to develop spiritually – to become emotionally aware and make responsible choices. It requires us to align ourselves with the values of the soul – harmony, cooperation, sharing, and reverence for life.

Dreaming to Be Clean: Aterciopelados Prayer for the River

Aterciopelados.  This image used in accordance with Fair Use Policy.

Aterciopelados.
This image used in accordance with Fair Use Policy.

Aterciopelados is a Colombian rock band founded and led by Andrea Echeverri and Héctor Buitrago. They are famous for their musical style, a fusion of Colombian and other Latin American traditions, and for their consciousness of social and environmental issues and willingness to make them the focus of their art.

Rio, River, is a prayer and a lament for the polluted Bogotá river. The images are beautiful and memorable: the river pictured as a snake, winding through the city and splashing everything with paint; guitarist Buitrago playing while wearing a gas mask; the ripples of smog gathering over the earth as the fish jump (to name just a few). It is a very moving video, intelligent and emotional. Please enjoy.

River

The river comes running, singing
going through the city, dreaming to be clean, to be clear.

You are thirsty, you have a cough, Bogotá river, be healthy, oh my River.

The waters fly from the river, they flood clouds,
and the sky falls in crystals that wash over us.
Oxygen, Let’s send the river, waves of prayer for the river,
prayers for the river.

We must save our blood that runs,
watch the vital water that flows,
bathe the sweet thread that weaves,
sing that the fish return.

Video via Nacionalrecords on Youtube.