Sunday, February 17, 2019

Prayer in All Languages

This morning, part of me awoke in a Singapore dawn. Another part was still trying to catch up to my corporeal body all the way from San Francisco, where it was late afternoon the day before. Musically speaking, my body is in canon with itself, waiting for unison in a day or two. 

I sat my customary morning meditation and chanted my customary ancient Sino-Japanese chants designed to restore the world to harmony and keep hurting loved ones wrapped in healing thoughts. Down I went to a (multi-)Continental breakfast—Indian flatbread with coconut curry, Chinese noodles, Swiss muesli and good ole eggs and potatoes. Then out into my Little India neighborhood, following my feet which led me to a Hindu Kali temple. I entered to the sounds of men chanting in ancient Sanskrit—different rhythms, melodies, syllables, syntax singing the same message as their Buddhist cousin. 

On I walked and some 10 blocks later, heard “Hallelujah!” being sung inside the Hinghwa Methodist Church. A few blocks away was Singapore’s Arab neighborhood and my timing was off, but earlier or later I would have heard the Muslim call to prayer coming from the mosque. And certainly some cantor in a Singaporean Jewish synagogue was intoning “Baruch Adonai.” Like my breakfast, it was a multi-continental song of devotion, of praise, of people plucking a moment from their daily pursuit of ambition to consider how small we are and how large and unfathomable the universe is. To try to catch at least a spark of the infinite heat and light of some divine force that has and needs no name. To sing and chant their way to a short spiritual renewal and refreshment that will see them through the week, to be reminded yet again the following Sunday having forgotten it all in the pushing and pulling of the daily round. 

And what is the common thread joining these diverse calls to Spirit? Why, music, of course! Dogma divides and faith can be childish wishing and hoping and prayer can be self-centered and selfish, but music is the house Spirit lives in. The rhythm of these songs and chants awakens the body to receive the Spirit, the melodies open the Heart, the syllables go beyond literal meaning to musical meaning, all of it tied with silken threads to connect us to our fellow choir members. And if the song be in earnest and true, it will connect us to all choir members of all denominations, drill down to the common ground we share and insist that we stop all this squabbling about whether Allah or Yahweh or God or Krishna or Buddha are the correct names. What matter if the rhythms resounding throughout a Singapore Sunday are in different meters, melodies in different keys, words in different languages? Doesn’t that make the glory of Creation, whose hymn is diversity, yet more alive, more vibrant, more true? And don’t stop at the usual big Five. In villages in the South American rainforest, throughout the African continent, in the peaks of the Himalayas or the beaches of the South Seas, there are a thousand other ways to sing praise and gratitude, a thousand other names for the Divine Spirit.  Welcome to them all!

My walk through a potpourri of prayer was as delicious as my breakfast. All you frightened dividers of humanity, come join the party. It’s much more fun that hatred and walls and government-manufactured fear. Honest. The real National—and International— Emergency—is purposeful exclusion and insistence that only one name is correct. I propose 5.7 billion dollars be spent to bring the unbelievers to the mosques, temples, churches, village drum circles and teach them the songs that reveal our common humanity. What say you, Congress?

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