There are some songs that speak into the very fibres of the traveller and Dido’s classic album “White Flag” has several tracks that do exactly that. Here’s one of those here but I’d love to hear your suggestions!
We all have them. The “together” moments. The ecstasy of experiencing something in a large number. Whether you’re a music festival junkie, or whatever makes you want to travel to be with others, there’s no doubt something special occurs when we’re in big crowds.
It’s why many people plan their travel to coincide with the big festivals. Whether catching New Year in Edinburgh, the beach parties of the Festival de San Juan in Spain or the raves all night long on Thai beaches with the sun setting. Ireland has learnt fast that festivals mean money, whether tourist money or local money. There’s barely a single weekend of the calendar that Cork doesn’t have a festival (the Irish Times does a breakdown of the bigger ones here) of some sort.
And it’s not just those liberal twenty-something-year-olds who do festival and “group experiences”. No, head up in the tranquility of the Western Isles of Scotland and you’ll find a completely different, yet still spine-tingling experience in the religious community.
The Free Church of Scotland hold their eucharist/communion/celebration of Jesus’ death and resurrection in particular a couple of times a year. And to prepare themselves and to remember the importance of this event, they meet for one week, every night of the week to still their hearts and confess their shamefulness before the God they serve, both as individuals and as a community. In seeing more of their shame and imperfection, they rejoice more in the perfect solution at the end of the week that removes this shame forever.
On a cold winter evening you’ll find them packing into rooms of local believers, that weren’t meant to host that number. And you won’t be there long before haunting a-capella melodies will start of some of the Bible’s songbook (The Psalms) that point them to humanity’s persistent shame, and to the solution. Three part harmonies, or four will not be out of place, and all are welcomed singing, regardless of ability. It’s beautiful! The tears welled in my eyes. The memories will last a long time.
But what are these songs they’re singing? Ancient songs from many thousand years ago, preserved (but re-arranged close to the time) in historical records to give us a glimpse of the festival tunes that would have been known by everyone – the hits that lasted down the years.
And some of them I’ve been studying recently are songs that would have been put together for the road. Songs for travel. For when Jewish people were setting out to the big religious festivals in Jerusalem where their temple was. They felt the buzz of the festival coming and being with likeminded people for a change (Ps. 120). Everyone was on the road, but the roads weren’t just as easy as ours. I could imagine they’d have been something like this at points:
The hills were something to be afraid of, when the songwriter turns his eyes to them (Ps. 121). They were like the Jericho road that the good Samaritan walked – are there gangs lurking behind the next rock?
What will walking in the heat of the sun do to us?
Or what about when the sun sets and leaves chilling shadows over the hills? (Ps 121.)
Together when they get to the festival they will glimpse what they long for – true peace between people that they are united to! (Ps 122) That’ll be fully known in a future, in a “Jerusalem” that won’t be an Israeli capital city. In a “Zion” that will be as if God is the towering mountains of safety (not of fear) around them (Ps 125) who’ll protect them from evil people (Ps. 124).
This festival will help us send postcards to home, reminding everyone across the world what God has done, even when it’s hard to see that (Ps 126). These festivals will remind us there’s something bigger than ourselves! Something that we should give even our very offspring to honour (Ps 127).
And I could go on. Psalm 133 and 134 nearly seem to speak into an arrival into the ecstasy of the festival – no longer being on the road.
They’re marked in the ancient manuscripts as the “Songs of Ascent” (121-134) and they come to life when you remember their context of the traveller on the hard road up to the festival! Enjoy!
Interestingly secular historian Tom Holland came out a few days ago in the New Statesman to say that he’s increasingly realising how much of our western ethical thinking is still grounded in Christianity. Of course, he’s just slowly repeating what many others have said before him (as we all do), though at least Nietzsche tried to be consistent and rid himself of the Christian morality:
“When one gives up the Christian faith, one pulls the right to Christian morality out from under one’s feet. This morality is by no means self-evident: this point has to be exhibited again and again, despite the English flatheads. Christianity is a system, a whole view of things thought out together. By breaking one main concept out of it, the faith in God, one breaks the whole: nothing necessary remains in one’s hands. Christianity presupposes that man does not know, cannot know, what is good for him, what evil: he believes in God, who alone knows it. Christian morality is a command; its origin is transcendent; it is beyond all criticism, all right to criticism; it has truth only if God has truth—it stands or falls with faith in God.”
Whether we can rid ourselves of such a moral basis and still have an “ought” behind our morals? It’s been a great philosophical question in recent decades.
By that I suggest we mean we want to call evil wrong. But why is evil wrong and good right? Well it ought to be so. We can try and define evil by harm caused or injustice or inequality but we’ll always face to annoying two-year-old master question “why?”. Why is injustice or harm wrong? I know it is in virtually every culture. But what if we all have it wrong?
And in my mind such questions have never been answered sufficiently since we moved on from deontological frameworks (where morals are rooted in divine being), though the intuitionist may want to argue. And I’m not talking about poorly formed divine command theories (of which most we were given at undergraduate level were straw men!).
I’ll happily listen to someone who’ll give us a moral basis outside of a divine being, but for now, I see it being necessary if we’re going to be able to call ISIS evil in any proper way. Time won’t allow take us the full way to seeing whether that being is a Christian divine being or not. Perhaps for later…
8,100 people all singing acapella underneath an atmospheric, floodlit Edinburgh Castle. The singing continued as it echoed down the Royal Mile as we all slowly proceeded out of the castle, with barely another word said.
“There must be a place under the sun, where hearts of old in glory grow young”
Yes, yes, there must be.
Travelling two weeks to do this. I was trying to explain to an Italian last night that the Irish come to the beach no matter what the weather (for the beach team). I’m not sure she understood. Nor did she understand that the water feels warmer when it’s raining (or something like that). Blog posts may be sparse in the next couple of weeks!
Why another blog I’ve already been asked several times?
Does this young man arrogantly think he has something to share with the world?
Does he not know that we’re distracted enough already by online things?
Will he try to justify his every action and condemn everyone else?
Perhaps on a bad day, I’ll get it all wrong. But for now I’ll steal Hans Rookmaaker’s title “Art needs no justification” and let you decide over time whether this is art you wish to return to or not.
For a fuller story of why I’m writing, why not check out “The story of Al-jabr”
Thanks for reading!