Saturday, January 15, 2011

An Echo on the Sad Sound

I have had some interesting feedback on my post on the sadness of the call to prayer. One of my dear friends and faithful blog readers had the following insight (btw, she's Kelley, married to Ken, and they are both incredibly musically talented):

Reading your Call to Prayer post has me pondering about the sadness. I agree, when I hear that chant in a vacuum, it sounds very sad – Ken would have all kinds of words to say musically about the scale tone that is used, and whether that scale tone is “familiar” to that region in sacred vs. secular music, and all that stuff… Middle Eastern music almost always sounds sad to me because of the minor scale tone and the more nasal vocal sounds I generally associate with it. But when you read the translation of what the call is, it’s pretty amazing – and I’m glad it was on the link you sent us to… though the sounds may seem sad, the text is rather uplifiting:

God is most great. God is most great.
God is most great. God is most great.
I testify that there is no God except God.
I testify that there is no God except God.
I testify that Muhammad is the messenger of God.
I testify that Muhammad is the messenger of God.
Come to prayer! Come to prayer!
Come to success! Come to success!
God is most great. God is most great.
There is none worthy of worship except God.

Other than the Muhammad bit, this is like the first two movements of our Christian mass… though Presbyterians don’t do the whole liturgical deal outright like Lutherans do, the general mass structure is still the same. The first two parts are:

Kyrie Eleison (Lord have mercy, Christ have mercy, Lord have mercy)

Gloria (Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace to people of goodwill. We worship you, we bless you, we adore you, we magnify your holy name… the full Gloria goes on to incorporate the Apostle’s Creed)

I’ve sung some pretty sad sounding Kyries, and I’ve also sung some pretty lilting ones… Gloria is always joyful… but Ken always reminds us with a Kyrie, that we’re asking for God’s mercy and peace – in whatever is happening to us at that time, sometimes good, sometimes difficult. And though we don’t deserve it, He gives it to us… which is pretty awesome stuff.

So, listening to it again, there are times when I think it might be sad – when the singer or the hearer is pleading for mercy and peace through a difficult time. But it could also sound purely in awe – the “I can only imagine” kind of awe that God grants me mercy and peace each and every day, no matter whether I’ve been a faithful servant that day or a less-than-stellar one. God is most great.

What I told Kelley:
When I knew I was moving here I was actually looking forward to the daily prayer calls. Though many people complain about them I told myself I would use them as a reminder to intentionally aknowledge God where I was. I guess it still works that way, only I have to say, many times it turns into a question "God, where are you???" The chanting uses the word Allah, and the Muslims have such a differenct concept of, and relationship to God, that it feels more like He's "their God" and not mine, though I know there is only one God. It's a very hard thing to get my head wrapped around. Then when I went to India and experienced an even stranger belief system, one with Gods (as in many of them) I really got confused. Their faith is just as strong (seemingly even stronger) than mine. They don't question.

I love your (Kelley's)musical interpretation and seeing the paralels to what we believe. What a really, wonderful message. Thank you!


I think over this last week I've been pre-occupied with death more than I am consciously aware of. I guess that's what happens when someone you know dies. It slaps us in the face with the inevitability of death: no-one escapes it. And no mortal knows with certainty, except those who plan their own escape, when it will claim us. But when it happens to someone close or a family friend, and sometimes to someone you don't even know but occurs in a shocking way, it makes an etching in your head and on your heart and colors the way you see things whether you are aware of it or not. Or at least it does for me. This week it's the reminder I get during the calls to prayer. Here occurring five times a day, the first before the sun comes up. The last as I close out my day. It's just very draining. I love what Kelley said about it. Now I need to bring it to a more intentional listening than just a sad echo running throughout my day. Thanks friend!

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