and the Craziness of God
Grateful for the Music of Deva Premal and Miten
and the Light that Comes Through Sound
Light and Dark
In the Bible we read: "God is Light and in God there is no darkness at all." (1 John 15)
For my part I'm not entirely sure about this. There is a depth and mystery to God that cannot be fully captured in light metaphors. To be sure, it is good to be enlightened by God. It is nice to feel wrapped in a blanket of love beyond understanding, like a child in swaddling clothes. And it is nice to feel baffled, realizing that God is always more than our concept of God, including whatever light we might bring to the subject. It seems to me that we can be enlightened by God's presence but also endarkened. When it comes to God, I'll take the yin-yang diagram. God is light and dark. They flow into one another and through one another. Always they are moving.
The light side comes through sunrise, sunset, moonlight, and starlight. The sunrise side of divine love invites us to welcome the dawn of new mornings. It is the light of novelty. The sunset side of divine love invites us to let go of things when they pass away. It is the light of surrender. The moonlight side of love invites us go a little crazy by imagining the world as it ought to be and can be, free from violence and free for justice. And the starlight side of love invites us to recognize that we are small but included in a larger galactic whole, which is the very life of God. Of course the light flows into the dark and the dark into the light. Within every starlit night there's the beauty of the dark sky.
The Prophetic Imagination
The moonlight side of love is especially important for those among us who might otherwise prioritize inner peace as the primary spiritual virtue. This is a problem with some New Age spirituality. It's all about inner peace and not enough about justice. It has too much sweetness and not enough Dylan.
When we are in touch with moonlight love we go a little crazy in a loving way. We have the freedom to dance barefoot in the moonlight, remembering the playful side of life. And we also enter into what one biblical scholar, Walter Bruegemann, calls the prophetic imagination. The prophetic imagination has an edge to it. It is more like rock and roll than popular music.
At the very least it is alienated. It is not content with the social and political status quo, inasmuch as the status quo involves violence and injustice, coercion and deception. Alienated from the way things are, it seeks to build alternative communities that are creative, compassionate, participatory, and ecologically wise, with no one left behind. It says No and Yes, neither to the exclusion of the other. Indeed, the prophetic imagination is a mini-version of the yin-yang dialogue, with Martin Luther King, Jr. added.
One of the gifts of biblical images of God is that they so often display the alienated side of God. They show a God who gets angry at injustice and is moved to pity by the sufferings of the outcasts, the marginalized, the forsaken, and the forgotten. This is not the whole story, of course. There's some peace in God, too. But if we neglect the alienated side of God, we too often become complacent ourselve, and sometimes a bit narcissistic. We focus on the inner yoga but not the outer yoga.
Thus it is important to remember the side of God which unsettles and destabilizes the complacent, self-preoccupied heart and kicks ass. It is true that God is love, and it is true that sometimes -- maybe oftentimes -- this love is just a little crazy by conventional standards. It is not about appearance, affluence, and marketable achievement, but rather wisdom, compassion, and freedom. It suffers and sometimes even falls into tantrums, albeit for love's sake.
The point is that, in a healthy spiritual life, it is important to be alienated as well as at home, to be troubled as well as peaceful, to be angry as well as satisfied. It is often said that Jesus comforted the afflicted and afflicted the comfortable. He knew the beauty of Yes and No.
Sound and Silence
God comes to us in sound and silence. Most of us know the silence. We feel it when, on a dark and starlit night, we lie comfortably with someone we love, having nothing special to say, because the moment is enough.
In the listening, in the presence, in the silence, God is present. God is the Deep Listening in which all voices are heard, those who can sing and those whose voices are muffled by authoritarian regimes.
God also comes to us in music, which educates us in the arts of emotion. Music teaches us what we feel, or have felt, or want to feel. Music is what feelings sound like.
Of course not all music is heartening. Music can teach us about love but also about hatred, about courage but also about jealousy. Sacred music is music that helps us grow in love. We are made in God's image and our purpose is to grow into the likeness of that image. God is Love.
Of course people have other names for God than Love and there is no need to make a god of names. What is important is the Love itself. It is fluid and flexible, soft and adaptive, like music. It is within us and beyond us, again like music. It can be felt by the heart but not grasped by the hands, still again like music. It can console us but also challenge us, again like music. And it flows freely, wherever it wishes.
Jesus put it well: "The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit." (John 3:18) Imagine a child walking through a valley amid which a fresh wind blows across her face. She may not have a name for wind but she feels the freshness. This is how sacred music feels when it caresses our soul. It is the OM within the OM. When we are immersed in the OM our restlessness drops away and we understand the meaning of TS Eliot's saying in Little Gidding:
We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.
With help from sacred music we enter into the place of First Time.
Music is Not Enough
Of course the immersion lasts only as long as the music lasts. The First Time is beautiful but momentary and part of its beauty is its impermanence.
This is why music is not enough. If we are to become our better selves in a lasting way, much more is needed: right action and right speech, right mindfulness and right effort, right understanding and right friendship. Above all things right love is needed. We can only become our better selves through the hard work of good parenting, good neighboring, good friending, and good community-building. If we are privileged we must leave behind the comforts of middle-class narcissism and side with the poor and powerless. It's not all peaches and cream.
For many of us becoming our better selves requires community, too. We can only become our better selves with help from others who are also trying to become their better selves. This is why we turn to church and synogogue, sangha and gurdwara. We need to sing Amazing Grace in harmony with others and then kneel to the ground and pray.
The truth is that we humans have a very hard time becoming our better selves. The plants and animals, the hills and rivers, the mountains and valleys are already enlightened in so many ways. They don't have to work so hard at it. Our task is to join them in the greater dance. It is to grow into the likeness. For most of us it will take a lifetime or many more to do this. It's a good thing, as Reverend Teri Daily explains, that there are so many second chances, maybe even a billion of them.
In any case every journey begins with a single step. When music helps us become more loving than we would otherwise be, it is helping us take those steps. It becomes a guru for the moment at hand.
This is the kind of music Deva Premal and Miten want to play. They want us to enter into moments of grace. This is a priestly vocation theyu they know that musicians, like priests, are not saints, not even when their intentions are noble. Sometimes musicians can be real jerks. But happily, thankfully, music transcends the musician just as Love transcends the world. Deva Premal and Miten are priests in that they want to be vessels for this Love. Don't we all?
For her part, Deva Premal was born to sing Love songs. She heard her father chant the Gayatri Mantra as she was lying in the womb of her mother; she heard it later became enchanted with it; and she chanted the same mantra at his death. And today, along with her partner Miten, she is a mistress of the goddess in the worldwide Kirtan community.
The Gayatri Mantra is all about light. Here is a very free translation you will find in Wikipedia:
"Unveil, O Thou who givest sustenance to the Universe, from whom all proceed, to whom all must return, that face of the True Sun now hidden by a vase of golden light, that we may see the truth and do our whole duty on our journey to thy sacred seat." (William Judge, 1893)
The translation is inspiring in its own way, but If you know mantras well, you know that what is most important about them is not the meaning of the words but rather the sweetness of the sound. The understanding that comes in mantras is not logical or linguistic but rather rhythmic and musical. It is not a seeing of the truth but rather a hearing of the truth in rhythmic and melodic form. It is hearing the truth of divine Love.
This Truth not a distant reality residing three miles off the planet, but rather a cosmic embrace whose heart is everywhere at once. Imagine a Mother in whose womb we live and move and have our being all the time, not unlike the way that embryos live and move within the amniotic fluid of a mother's womb. The Mother cannot and does not control everything that happens. Tragedies occur all the time. They are painful to her and to those who suffer them. But always she is faithful to the lives within her, nourishing them with the light of her love, helping them grow into who they can best become. Through her grace the sound becomes Light, both light and dark.
Sometimes the Light comes as a sunrise over the mountains, spreading light over the landscapes of our daily lives, encouraging us to take delight in the beauty, welcome all strangers, and find peace in our hearts. Sometimes it comes as a sunset inviting us to let go of present circumstances, pleasant and painful, so that space can be made for new mornings. Sometimes it comes as moonlight: that is, as an invitation to let go of predictable and habitual forms of feeling and receive the beauty of wildness, of ecstasy, of standing outside ourselves in the midst of a more abundant love that seeks justice. And sometimes it comes as starlight, the sense of being small but included in something much more than we can imagine. Always these various forms of divine light are together and always they are about love.
In any case our task is to let it shine through us so that Love might dwell on earth as it dwells in heaven. When we are really immersed in the grittiness of love, there is no separate lover. There is only the grittiness itself, in which Love becomes incarnate, sometimes in an ass-kicking way. Om Mani Padme Hum.
For Further Reading
If you are interested in connections between Kirtan and Process Theology, you might also enjoy:
Kirtan and Process Theology
Hare Krishna and Amazing Grace
Larisa Stow and Shakti Tribe
If you are interested in the prophetic imagination, you might also appreciate:
Seeing Through Propaganda and Flags: Eugenie Dolberg
Martin Luther King. Jr. and Process Theology
Stand Up to Injustice
Urban Cusp and Rahiel Tesfamariam
If you are interested in process theology and art, you might enjoy:
Replanting Yourself in Beauty, by Patricia Adams Farmer
Savoring, by Patricia Adams Farmer
Process Theology of Synesthesia
The Culture of Possibility: Art, Artists, and the Future
If you are interested in process theology and Buddhism, you might try:
Process Philosophy and Buddhism
All is Void and There is No Buddha, by Weizhi Dong
If you want to consider love's grittiness, try:
Love Made Gritty by Reverend Teri Daily.