jacob's ladder, marc chagall
tis the yuletide (though it feels ridiculously early at the moment) in the western hemisphere (and part of east as well, i assume). the streets are covered with desires that is supposedly burning me at the very moment: gifts! services! for you! others! why not buy when you can!
when i was a little kiddie, i asked my father if i could have something specific for christmas (i dont remember what it is anymore), just like all the little kiddies who are aware of father christmas/santa. boy, the conversation was a bit more complicated than i have anticipated:
monkey: daddy, i want ___ for christmas, can i?
dad: you want what for what? (looking really confused)
m: (now sheepish) - no no, never mind.
d: wait, i just want to understand. tell me once again.
m: (quietly) i wish for ___ for christmas...
d: okay (pause) how did you come to that conclusion?
d: what is christmas?
m: jesus' birthday?
d: okay, so then how is it that you want a gift?
m: (gunshot through brain) oh! hmm-
d: i just want to understand
m:(sudden relief) no no, it's fine, i dont want anything!
d: wait, if you still want ___, you may have it, but-
m: no, it's someone else's birthday, never mind. i was mistaken.
i dont think he was trying to trick me. i think he was genuinely curious. at that point, i did not lose my innocence. i think what i lost was the false relation of christmas and gifts.
of course, gifts aside, there are things about christmas that i quite like. especially in ecclesiastical context. for instance, the four weeks of advent- the ritual of lighting of candles every sunday, from purple to eventually white (of course, of life, of innocence, completeness, etc). purple is a funny colour. it is also the colour of lent- the last ritual, the pre-planned and unavoidable journey of self-sacrifice. however, it is also colour of royalty. but the pink candle is the best- signifying that christ the messiah comes in flesh (gaudate sunday) and it already echos of his demise. without dying, there would be no miracle and no nothing. (a real reason why i dont like the blue candles used in some denominations- as blue bears quite a different meaning, of all hope and openness- not much dark things in there, really).
and how odd it is that we, as western collective, rejoiced the arrival of an innocent, who we knew we would kill? and how is it that we lost the meaning of sincere waiting through self-offered penitence (as we knew of death of flesh being inevitable)in lieu of rosy cheeked coca cola santa-
but back in the days when religious practice was more common, garbed in purple- of decadence and penance, what was it that people sought in advent? in praying? in their daily lives?
see, all this goes back tot he chauvet cave. book bomber, returning from his sabbatical journey (nevermind million concerts, he got to be a pianist and only that. we both know that he'll be covered in dust in no time in yyz), brought some interesting thoughts. including one that is non-verbal. a musical thought. and i could not help but to think: what are you praying for, genius man? well, it helped a great deal to realize that he somehow went back to the chauvet cave. it's his secret garden i think.
*and he's been so kind to let me post his thoughts here. thanks!!! :D
which then lead to golijov's dreams and prayer of issac the blind. issac also prays. desperately. as he would be a lost man, a lunatic without his god. golijov says in his prog:
... blindness is as important in this work as dreaming and praying. (i) had always the intuition that, in order to achieve the highest possible intensity in a performance, musicians should play, metaphorically speaking, 'blind'. that is why, i think, all legendary bards in cultures around the world, starting with homer, are said to be blind. 'blindness is probably the secret... whose who dont need their eyes to communicate among them... blindness..is then music as it was in the beginning: an art that springs from and relies on our ability to sing and hear, with the power to build castles of sound in our memories.
with such caution around secular and religious, it is easy to forget to see what it means to 'pray'. its root is based on late 13th c, to 'ask earnestly, to beg,' from old french 'preier' (c. 900) and latin 'precari'. so really, without the dogmatic approach to life, what is it that we all seek and ask for? im not being sarcastic. i simply am wondering.
in that chauvet cave, through herzog's eyes, those paintings werent of pleasure or showmanship. to me, it is the very seed of the verb 'to pray.' and the world prayed with it, amazingly- the physical world, by keeping it sealed, warding off any gestures of immediate gratification. the day that the first stroke was made on the wall, man was born from animals. to seek, to quest for something- and all we have is simple cryptic clues in form of cave paintings. of animals that have passed the time in utter silence and grand pause, holding onto passage of time, as if nothing and everything have happened. and the men who made these paintings- we will never know why but we do know what- he sought to express. what a gift, taking the risk of presenting private thoughts to uneducated audiences (who may think they may be beyond these simple paintings).
sir edward bunett tylor and sir james george frazer, anthrolopogists, goes as far as to say that earliest intelligent modern human practice would be the prayer. aha. no wonder book bomber's thought echoed so loudly in my head: a prayer. and of golijov, through the iconic blindness of issac the prophet: a prayer. of forgotten practices of christmastide: a prayer. a daily human need against the restricted and often contrasting condition: to seek and ask for relief/peace, a prayer.
we all ask.
what are we asking?
how are we asking?
with great cantor shalom katz abiding final good bye to the departed in this great prayer, i simply sink down to the nebulous yet comforting zone of 'seeking', which is not what i have planned for (initially i planned for evening of cheap entertainment through solitaire and television blaring on side) yet it is only natural, to pray. i may never find out what it is that i seek for. but the thirst, the curiosity will be there till the day i find it.
and to you all, courage to continue praying. and loads of love. in this demanding retail season of christmas coming.