Saturday, February 7, 2015


After struggling with warring modern technologies for hours yesterday, I finally was able to reload my iPod (which had been “lost” since last September) with different music.  The stuff I’d had on it was more or less from a different era…I hadn’t filled or changed it since before we closed the restaurant.  In those days, surrounded as I was by people young enough to be my grandchildren,  my play list tended toward the modern—which means I actually had songs on it that were less than forty years old.  Now that I truly am a retired Old Fart, my preferences have changed some.  I wouldn’t say that I’ve completely reverted to the Golden Oldies of my youth.  But I have kind of fallen back into that place of pensive instrumental “space music” (which is kind of like aural Xanax.)  And when I listen to songs with words, they have to be words with some meat to them. 

A couple of years ago, I “discovered” the genre of what I guess you would call “modern classical voice.”  Artists like Josh Groban, the Canadian Tenors, Susan Boyle, Andrea Bocelli, Il Divo…beautiful voices that sing beautiful songs that are not necessarily opera (which is, I’m afraid, one of my least favorite musical disciplines.)  I loaded up one of my Pandora stations with these artists, and I made an interesting discovery:  There are a few songs that seem to be required covers in this genre:  Amazing Grace.  Leonard Cohen’s Hallelujah.  And the David Foster (et al) sacred offering—The Prayer. 


The prayer.  It’s spectacular, musically.  After separate successful recordings of it in the 90’s by Celine Dion in English and Andrea Bocelli in Italian, it has morphed into a gorgeous duet interweaving the English and Italian lyrics.  I actually first heard the song at a Christmas concert in Portland, sung by Oregon’s 2002 Miss America, Katie Harman, and some local tenor whose name I can’t recall (or never knew…)  I thought it was quite pretty, then…and memorable enough that years later, when I started hearing it covered by every modern classical artist under the sun, I could think, “Oh, yeah…that’s the song we heard at the Living Christmas Tree (don’t ask) concert!”

This is one of those songs that begs the listener to be transcended by the music and the lyrics.  And there's no question that the music has the ability to send you to a rarefied place.  But the words?  Ah...the words.  Once I got a pretty good handle on what the words were all about, I realized...they bug the shit out of me.

            I pray you'll be our eyes and watch us where we go 
           And help us to be wise in times when we don't know 
           Let this be our prayer when we lose our way far, not brilliant, but prayerful enough.  If the writer could have stuck with that sentiment, it would have been fine.  Sweet.  Adequate.  Maybe a good jumping-off point for something a little loftier.  But, no...the next two lines--the oft-repeated refrain, so the writers must have thought them most significant--are a crushing disappointment.

            Lead us to a place, guide us with your grace 
           To a place where we'll be...Safe.



Is that really what we would beg of the Spirit of the Universe, to the accompaniment of such a powerful, soaring melody?

Indeed, is it what we would ask for at all?  Is that our best, highest destiny?  To be "safe"?

Wouldn't we rather be compassionate, or loving, or understanding, or discerning?  Shouldn't we petition the Creator for the strength and the knowledge to lead humanity to a better place?  Wouldn't we earnestly request the will to bring peace to the world or end hunger or house the homeless? 

Would we really join our voices in such a heavenly noise to meekly request that the Almighty keep us safe?

Let's face it...when we ask for safety, we're basically asking to take a pass on life.  Because life is not safe.  It's fatal. 

It's full of pits and rocks, cliffs and deserts.  It's full of pain and sadness and exhaustion and fear.  And the harder you try to make it into something...the farther you travel looking to do good or create something positive and lasting...the more of that pain and sadness and exhaustion and fear you're going to have to bear.  But the funny thing is, the harder you try, the further you go, the more moments of pure goodness, joy and beauty you're likely to encounter as well. 

To be able to come to the end of your days and say, "I did THIS!" with a satisfied smile and a nod from the Creator...makes it worth every minute of struggle.    

If the best we can ask from the Almighty is to keep us Safe, we miss all of that.

What right-minded person would pray to miss out on every drop of opportunity life has to offer?

And what uninspired deity would grant that request?

This prayer for safety brings to my mind a picture of a bunch of the faithful huddled in an underground bunker like a flock of meek little sheep, patiently waiting for God to bestow food and water and comfort upon them.  Waiting.  Sitting.  And doing not much else.  It's such a distasteful vision that I need to drive it out of my head immediately.  Who would ask for that?  Who could live like that?

Not me.

I don't want to be safe.  I want to grab life by the throat and wring every drop of power and joy and endurance and beauty out of it.  And then I want the Almighty to stretch out Its hand and call me forth to the next adventure.  

I guess I'll need to write my own song.       

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