Wednesday Video: Had Gadya

Today’s video features Shirana, the women’s choir of the Arab-Jewish Community Center in Jaffa, Israel sing Had Gadya.

Had Gadya (חד גדייא) is a folk song traditionally sung in Aramaic at the end of the Passover Seder (the liturgical meal that opens the week-long holiday). The lyrics are in Aramaic and are a kind of Middle Eastern “This is the House that Jack Built”.

In this video the choir sing a version of the song by Israeli singer-songwriter and cultural icon Chava Alberstein, with lyrics in Aramaic and Hebrew. The song was banned from Israeli radio during the 1980s. (You can read more about Alberstein in Jewish Women: A Comprehensive Historical Archive, including reference to  the political songs on her controversial twenty-eighth album Mehagrim (Immigrants).

This is the last verse of the traditional song:

Then came the Holy One
Blessed be G-d
And destroyed the Angel of Death
That killed the butcher
That slew the ox
That drank the water
That quenched the fire
That burned the sticks
That beat the dog
That bit the cat
That ate the little goat
My father bought for two zuzim

In Alberstein’s version, in addition to having a different melody the song is sung in both Aramaic and Hebrew. Alberstein also added a final verse  in Hebrew and this is what led to the song’s banning from radio broadcast:

I questioned only four
Tonight I have one more:
How much longer will the circle of horror persist
Striker and stricken, beater and beaten,
When will this madness, when will it end,
And what is different for you, what is different?
I am different this year
I used to be a lamb and a peaceful goat
Today I am a tiger and a preying coyote
I was a dove already, and a ram
Today I dont know who I am
(My father bought for 2 zuzim)
And once more, we start from the beginning

I am pleased to present Shirana singing Had Gadya.

Christmas 2012

It is Christmas Eve in the Holy Land. I don’t often speak explicitly about my faith, but it’s no secret that I am a devoutly believing Christian. While the exact date is open to debate, Jesus was born – amazing event! – just about an hour’s walk from where I’m sitting.

Here is a modern take by the “Mediaeval Baebes” on a traditional Latin hymn, Gaudete!

Refrain:
Gaudete! gaudete! Christus est natus ex Maria Virgine. Gaudete!
(Rejoice! rejoice! Christ is born of the Virgin Mary! Rejoice!)
 
1. Tempus adest gratiæ hoc quod optabamus,
Carmina lætitiæ devote reddamus.
(Now is the time of grace for which we have been hoping,
Let us faithfully return songs of joy.)
 
2. Deus homo factus est natura mirante,
Mundus renovatus est a Christo regnante.
(God is become man, nature marvels,
The world is renewed by the reigning Christ.)
 
3. Ezechielis porta clausa pertransitur,
Unde lux est orta salus invenitur.
(Ezechiel’s closed gate has been breeched,
Where light is found, salvation is discovered.)
 
4. Ergo nostra contio psallat iam in lustro;
Benedicat Domino: salus Regi nostro.
(So let our gathering now sing brightly;
Praise the Lord, salute our King.)
 

Canticle of the Sun

Today, the fourth of October, is the feast day of Francis of Assisi. Popular culture has made of him a sort of tree-hugging hippie – and there is that side to him – but the spirituality he developed and lived is exigent in the extreme. Nothing wishy-washy about it.

The son of a merchant, Francis was not well-educated. Clare of Assisi, the nobleman’s daughter who together with him founded the order that came to be known as the Poor Clares, had much better Latin than he. Nevertheless, Francis composed a number of poems or songs in the dialect of his native Umbria. The only one to have come down to us so far is the Canticle of the Sun, composed shortly before his death. In fact, it is said that the last verse, the praises of “our Sister Bodily Death” was composed minutes before he died.

I love this text because it is at the same time exalted and lowly, magnificent and simple, spiritual and practical – like Francis and Clare themselves.

This translation from the Umbrian text of the Assisi Codex is attributed to Bill Barrett.

Most high, all powerful, all good Lord!
All praise is yours, all glory, all honor, and all blessing. 
To you, alone, Most High, do they belong. No mortal lips are worthy to pronounce your name.
 
Be praised, my Lord, through all your creatures,
especially through my lord Brother Sun, who brings the day; and you give light through him.
And he is beautiful and radiant in all his splendor!
Of you, Most High, he bears the likeness.
 
Be praised, my Lord, through Sister Moon and the stars;
in the heavens you have made them, precious and beautiful.
 
Be praised, my Lord, through Brothers Wind and Air,
and clouds and storms, and all the weather, through which you give your creatures sustenance.
 
Be praised, My Lord, through Sister Water;
she is very useful, and humble, and precious, and pure.
 
Be praised, my Lord, through Brother Fire, through whom you brighten the night.
He is beautiful and cheerful, and powerful and strong.
 
Be praised, my Lord, through our sister Mother Earth,
who feeds us and rules us, and produces various fruits with colored flowers and herbs.
 
Be praised, my Lord, through those who forgive for love of you;
through those who endure sickness and trial.
Happy those who endure in peace, for by you, Most High, they will be crowned.
 
Be praised, my Lord, through our Sister Bodily Death, from whose embrace no living person can escape.
Woe to those who die in mortal sin!
Happy those she finds doing your most holy will. The second death can do no harm to them.
 
Praise and bless my Lord, and give thanks, and serve him with great humility.

You can’t always get what you want…

You can’t always get what you want
You can’t always get what you want
You can’t always get what you want
But if you try sometimes you might find
You get what you need. 
(Rolling Stones)

I was disappointed today. There was something that I wanted, not something huge, a little thing that I’d had before and wanted to enjoy again, but for some very good, sensible reasons I can’t have it. I was disappointed, even though I completely understood why I can’t have it. “Life is like that,” I said. “I’ll survive.” (A bit of irony there for those who know how much I don’t like that word.)

And I will, of course. It’s a little thing. It’s as though they were out of anchovies at the pizza place so I had to be content with a different kind of topping. I have the choice to sit and pout or to enjoy the other kind of pizza. Me, I’ll take the pizza every time!

Sometimes, though – and this is just between you and me, Internet – sometimes I almost wish I wasn’t so mature and sensible. Sometimes I wish I could pout and shout and stamp my foot and insist that I am very, very special, so the pizzeria can good and well go out and find me some dang anchovies! (Why yes, I am four years old.)

It wasn’t anchovies that I wanted and upon reflection I am pleased that I can’t have what I thought I wanted. It would have been to the detriment of someone else, so ultimately to my own.

It is humbling to realize that I am still so self-centered and selfish that I can seriously consider doing something that would not be in the best interests of another person just to satisfy my own wishes. That kind of “behumblement” is good. It is an excellent reminder, in this Lenten season, that I am not put on this earth merely for my own pleasure.

I have a responsibility to the others in my life and to all the people I touch in one way or another, a responsibility before God, whom I love and want to serve with every fiber of my being. My choices have an impact on me, and on everyone else, too. Your choices have an impact on me. We are not alone.

I got what I needed today. Because I am so far from my goal, I am still disappointed that I didn’t get my druthers, but that is not very important. I got what I needed, so thank you.

Kindling the lights of fire

I’ve had a rough couple of weeks physically, and it’s been interesting to observe how closely my physical, emotional, mental (cognitive), and spiritual selves are intertwined. Waddaya know – I  really am one multifaceted being. This will come as news to no one but myself, but I’m a slow learner, and an experiential one. I have trouble taking ideas on board until I’ve had a lived experience that connects to it.

The realization made me think of the multiwicked candle used in the Saturday night ritual by which observant Jews mark the movement from the Sabbath, which is sanctified time, to secular time. The candle must be made with at least two wicks, though it is not usual to see more. One explanation for this is the blessing that is said over it: Blessed are you, O Lord our God, King of Universe, who creates the lights of fire. The light of each wick joins the others in a blazing flame. The separate flames can no longer be distinguished but are not lost; together they make a brilliant light.

I can always pay more attention to one part of myself than to another – it’s my choice. I find it very affirming and strengthening to remember that. Even when I mess up (double-cheese pizza, I’m looking at you) it is my choice. Of course, when I succeed it’s due to my choice, too – works both ways. Owning one and the other lets me live my life fully, moving more and more toward integration.

When I’m anxious, for example, my baseline pain hurts more and is harder to deal with. If I can manage to calm myself and relax, the pain decreases, too. When I am elated, I hardly hurt at all. (Remember, children: endorphins are our friends! Here is a fun, non-technical article about them.)

When I am in a spiritually dry place, I find it harder to do everything. If I am not careful, I am liable to acedia, a sort of spiritual malaise, characterized by both restlessness and listlessness, that makes it hard to work and pray and relax. This is a not uncommon pitfall of the religious life, and there is a lot of spiritual literature on it, going back to the Desert Fathers.

Theologians and masters of the spiritual life have all kinds of excellent advice on how to deal with acedia, but I like to keep things simple. When I catch myself going down that road (and sometimes I’ve gone quite a ways along before I realize it), I just remind myself that “Feelings are not the boss of me”. I light one or another of the wicks of my inner and outer life, and soon enough the brilliant flame dances.

Music meditations (loads slowly – sorry)

Misericordias domini in aeternum catabo. I will sing the loving kindness of the Lord forever. (Latin Ps 88:2 (89:1), music by Jacques Berthier)

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All shall be well… all manner of things shall be well. (English – Dame Julian of Norwich, late 14th-early 15th century, with Spanish translation)

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Ya ribon alam we almaya. God is Lord of the universe (Aramaic – 16th century Syrian Jewish poem)

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