Monday, August 27, 2018

How Can We Sing the Lord's Song in a Strange Land?

The opening verses of Psalm 137 make up amongst the most poignant laments in all of the Bible.
The exiled Jews - now captives in Babylon - recall, with tears, their life in Zion. Far from that exalted state, they are now forced by their captors to sing their sacred songs of praise for the amusement of the ungodly. But ridiculed by their conquerors and heavy with the knowledge of their own sin, the chosen people ask, "How can we sing the Lord's song in a strange land?"

Against the backdrop of their fettered and wounded existence, having to sing of the faithfulness of their God to their cruel persecutors seem to the followers of Jehovah the ultimate incongruity, the worst form of profanity, torture beyond the physical.

Our undoing can come from any direction. Disease, death, a career crisis, a conflict in the family. Even beyond these life-changing events, we can often feel a 'disconnect' between our days and our deepest aspirations. This is debilitating enough to unstring our harps.

The song in us is silenced.

At these times, it is tempting to see art - in any form - as pointless. It is easy to assume that sorrow can drain the life out of any creative urge.

And yet that question of the tormented captives is, in itself, their unsung song. It becomes for an oppressed people a consolation beyond all consolations. Their remembrance of lost grace becomes their claim to grace.

In times of desolation, it is often the vision of another time, another place, another feeling that helps sustains us. Despair, they say, is the fatal failure of the imagination. That is why art can, in trying times, be the believable vision of a better world. Believable because the sheer fulfilment in making or appreciating art gives us grounds for hope. We are no longer staring into the void, but gazing expectantly at possibilities that the facts do not suggest. This redemptive power of art opens up new territory for each individual to traverse.

It is not escapism. That is precisely why art in times of war captures not only the unspeakable horror of war, but also the triumph of the human spirit in the face of adversity. As German artist, Gerhard Richter put it, "Art is the highest form of hope".

During World War II, the Nazis were guilty of doing what the Babylonians did to their captives. They forced inmates in the concentration camps to sing or play their musical instruments for the amusement of the guards or as undisguised attempts at mockery. But apart from such occasions when they were forced to make music, prison inmates also composed and performed music of their own accord. This ranged from the most unadorned forms of music-making - whistling or humming - through to more organised group singing and informal concerts. A defiant 'last stand' against fear, pain and death.

Apart from helping us cope with life-threatening situations such as wars and natural disasters, art also helps prevent the quiet descent into dysfunction that depression, ageing and chronic illness can bring. Painting, sculpture, music, dance, drama, photography, design, literature... any art form can help combat the loss of identity that physical or mental decline can bring. Art can not only enrich the day, but stimulate the mind and help individuals reconnect with the outer world. This is because art is able to bypass conventional hurdles to self-expression and communication. The sense of community that it helps foster is a powerful antidote to the isolation and alienation that can so very often smother the life out of people battling their personal demons.

Of course, even artists will agree that art alone is not enough. But, as a tool to developing a richer inner life that sustains us in times of despair, it is highly underrated. For art is the evocation of the spirit of possibilities. It is the unsung song when the horizon darkens. It is the bridge that can take us 'home' even as we roam strange lands.

Article Source:

No comments: