Friday, April 06, 2012

And so we give God the form we understand

You know, God is an imponderable. We can't grasp it as humans. And so we give God the form we understand. Some people see God as Exu or one of the Orishas, others see God in Sidi Mimoun or Vishnu or Buddha. The form changes according to the culture.
Those wise words come from Neil Clarke who is percussionist for Randy Weston and many other stars. The soundtrack could well be Randy Weston's life-affirming Spirit! The Power of Music with Neil Clarke playing African percussion. But in recognition both of Eastertide and of the inclusive sentiments of that opening quote the music is Haydn's The Seven Last Words of Christ on the Cross performed by Jordi Savall and Le Concert des Nations. The Alia Vox CD interposes the traditional Biblical verses delivered in Latin by the Evangelist with the orchestral sections, but the booklet includes reflections on the Biblical texts by two great twentieth century masters of spiritual and humanist thought, Ramon Panikkar and José Saramago, and these are available as alternative scenes on the DVD version.

Haydn's Seven Last Words was commissioned for the 1785 or '86 Good Friday service at Cádiz Cathedral in Spain. The venue for Jordi Savall's recording was also Cádiz Cathedral, which makes his decision to commission commentaries from Ramon Pannikar and Saramago a bold one; in fact one reviewer observed that "one of them would be considered downright heretical by Catholic theologians". The offending text was presumably the one by Nobel literature prize winner José Saramago which has Christ speaking the following words:
I don't believe my death will save mankind, or that without my death mankind would be more doomed than it already is. You can't imagine, God, Father, Lord, how complicated and unfathomable human beings are. In any case, I have done everything you commanded. And that is why a man is dying on the cross.
José Saramago's advocacy of libertarian communism brought him into conflict with a number of establishments including the Catholic Church. In 1992 the Portuguese government ordered the removal of Saramago's The Gospel According to Jesus Christ from the European Union Prize for Literature shortlist, claiming the novel was heretical.

Jordi Savall's other chosen commentator, Ramon Pannikar, is also no stranger to controversy; his advocacy of intercultural dialogue and links with the polytheistic religions was very much at variance with the position of traditionalist Catholics, as is recounted in my post Rearranging the geometry of heaven. In his book God's Jury Cullen Murphy tells how closed files on Pannikar are still held in the Vatican's Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, the successor to the Inquisition and Index of Prohibited Books.

What a contrast between this inspired dialectic and the contrived controversy that is the standard fare of today's media. The header quote comes from Traveling Spirit Masters: Moroccan Gnawa Trance and Music in the Global Marketplace by Deborah Kapchan, a book that featured in We have the music but they have the money, as did Spirit! The Power of Music which is seen below. A very joyous Easter to all my readers.


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1 comment:

Pliable said...

Video of Jordi Savall's Seven Last Words here - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3L-304I-pRc