"I remember reading that when David Lynch was going through a particularly dark patch, he made The Straight Story - which was as beautiful and softly spoken a film as ever there was. Hymns for Nomads Volume 2 was put together in hellish times - globally and personally - and perhaps it makes sense that it came out an oddly gentle and fragile creature. These are folk hymns of solace and consolation."
Goodness and Peace
Goodness and Peace is a round for the heart’s outward breath, and a space of quiet blessing to fall apart in. You know the person who’s doorstep you arrive at, and you follow them into their kitchen, and you cry a thousand tears while the kettle boils? This is reaching for that kind of sacred space.
Sing All perhaps owes something to the astonishingly beautiful words of St Isaac of Nineveh: “What is a merciful heart? It is a heart on fire for the whole of creation, for humanity, for the birds, for the animals, for demons, and for every created thing. And at the recollection and sight of them, the eyes of a merciful person pour forth tears in abundance. By the strong and vehement mercy that grips such a person’s heart, and by such great compassion, the heart is humbled and one cannot bear to hear or to see any injury or slight sorrow in any in creation.”
The Hymns I grew up with tended to be carriers of doctrine, formed to reinforce what we were to believe. I can remember very few that described a way of being; that centred me on the best I might find in myself and others. Our Keeper is a sort of earthen folk chant of divine energies and postures: care, generosity, mercy, vulnerability and welcome. The best of things.
I wanted The Light to be acapella, but it would not be. It ended up sounding like a fire on the beach. You cannot tell a song what to do if it has its own ideas. It is said that the Way is like a woman working yeast through the dough. A little bit of a good thing goes much further than people think. And like a seed that grows into a tree, a good thing often takes longer than people think.
The Lord’s Prayer, as they call it, is generally thought to say “forgive us our sins,” or “forgive us our tresspasses.” Perhaps you had to pray these words somewhere? Or perhaps not. The text really says “forgive us our debts, as we forgive those indebted to us.” In the law of Moses, the Hebrews were to have a festival every so-many years, where everyone’s debts got cancelled. Not a very good capitalist principle. Perhaps the Powers that Be preferred that we worried more about sins and trespassing, than about the cancellation of debts. The Welcome is a chant to evoke a space in which nobody owes anybody anything. Except love. I want to live in that world.
Pillar of Cloud
Pillar of Cloud takes its name from the old story about Pharaoh's army pursuing his escaping slaves. The deity appears as a cloud of protection between oppressor and oppressed. I wish this would really happen. What I have seen is real people putting their bodies between the Powers that Be and the life of the vulnerable and I’m in tears every time I see it.
There’s a cosmic joke in that play of apocalyptic ecstasies The Book of Revelation, where the multitude await the arrival of the messiah in the form of a great lion. Instead, what walks onstage is A Lamb with a broken neck. Maybe we should let the little things lead the journey sometimes. The little things and the broken things. Perhaps even more often than sometimes. Perhaps these ones know more about how things really are. There is something of the medieval carnival in this song; in its tonality and small choral pathos; the carnival where the grand things are a joke and the broken things lead the procession.
Someone was telling me about one of those odd awakening experiences that happen to us sometimes. He was walking across Spain and meeting various strangers coming and going, and found himself somewhat changed. He said it was very difficult to go home. He was a little bit different in his skin and he was beginning to make different sorts of choices. And some parts of home rolled with what had awoken in him, and some parts didn’t, and he lost some things in the process. There’s always some grief and loss in growing.
No One Speak
The penultimate song is No One Speak, and I find it so sad. We all resist the moment of collapse and loss. We have to. And when it happens we can’t think our way through those dark woods. Nor can we map another’s way through theirs. It just has to be felt and accepted. Only surrender releases us from its domineering cloud, and allows it to find its place, as a part of us that we will always carry: the wound, with its strange gifts and sorrows.
How Can I Keep from Singing
How Can I Keep from Singing is an old folk song of unknown origin. It’s often associated with the Quakers, but I believe it was not originally a religious song, as such. I think all folk protest songs are, in a sense, messianic; in that they lament an unjust present, or reach for better futures. As is my custom, I made up the music without reference to the conventional tune, and it came out very southern gothic. Only later did I discover versions by Pete Seeger and others, which sound a little more Auld Lang Syne. I like that this version has an unwavering heart-beat. “The Universe is a procession,” says Walt Whitman, and I think it has a heartbeat. I can feel it when I still myself.
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