Thursday, December 26, 2013

The day before the night before: Some songs about Mary


The day before the night before. Guillaume walks across the street, meets me on the steps. I want to give you a tree, he says. So I walk across with him. He goes off to tend to a customer. I pick out a modest sized tree. Karen, as strong  she is creative, is preparing to make a fresh cut for me. Guillame looks up, No, you must have the tallest tree, and leads me  to a ten foot tall Douglass Fir. There, that one, he says. After the fresh cut, he hoists the tree up on his shoulder and carries it across and it into the church, setting it up for me. There, that is right, he says.

RL is helping me to develop a strategy to get the place clear and clean for Christmas. Rachelle is part of what makes a strategy necessary. She comes in for a conversation. I try to make clear again why removing her cart is necessary for Christmas. She begins talking about how she was in the news. A cover story. In the Westside Spirit. I look it up and sure enough, it’s true. Somehow I had missed it.  It’s not a bad story. Although typically Upper Westside liberal. They call her Esther. Romantic compassion comes easier when you don’t feel joined at the hip to her.

Tonight’s Bible Study is a musical study of Mary, beginning with the Cherry Tree Carol. I offer a choice, and John picks Sting's version.

                                        The cherry tree carol

After it’s over, we talk about how it’s roots are in James and Thomas and the Koran, like we learned last week.

Down in yon forest, Joan Baez

                                   Down in yon forest, Bruce Cockburn

Next we look at the spookiest carol of all, Down in Yon Forest. We hear the mellower version, of course by Joan Baez, and the raw and scary by Bruce Cockburn. It’s sources go to the medieval Golden Legend ( and the Grail myth. (  And we wonder at the ancient English traditions that wove scripture and Celtic lore into deep and dark explorations of birth and death. Christmas and crucifixion in the same carol. Water and blood flowing, the Eucharistic sacrifice.

                               I wonder as I wander, Barbara Streisand

                              I wonder as I wander, John Jacob Niles

Which leads us to wonder as I wander, the chill and windswept discovery of John Jacob Niles from Appalachia. Carrying on that same tradition. Barbara Streisand’s version much to clean and smooth. 

                                             Bruce Cocburn

Then two versions of Mary had a baby: one by Cockburn again with its southern honkey tonk feel and Paul Robeson’s (Negro) spiritual version.

                                                   Paul Robeson

                                          Mary did you know?

And then John suggests Mary did you know? Which I remember from Andrea Bradford and Larry Woodard’s powerful arrangement sung here by Andrea and Lauren Flanigan in Larry’s Mary, Queen of Galilee suite.

                                        Mary did you know?

I say that James Cone said in Black Theology that thee are multiple canons: the Bible, but also Black preachers’ sermons and the music of the black church. The people are always writing their own canon rooted in their own lives. Didn’t stop in medieval England or 19th century Appalachia or the South. It continues on, even to this day. The word continues or be made flesh, God becoming incarnate. Always. Our wait is almost over.

And I must wait for Rachel to leave for the night.

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