Friday, June 12, 2009

"Try Jah Love...."

"...A timeless thought, a touch of close encounter
Your love embraced me and took over my life
And now I'm new your strength has made me
Change my ways from wrong to right

Please Father, please
this world we live in has faltered
Deliver us from all this evil and pain
God Bless the heart that loves unto his brother
Praising out your Name

Then he said, 'Be not Afraid
Those who believe I will save'
I wonder
When will the world
wake up and start to
Try Jah Love
People have to make up their mind to
try Jah, Jah Love
So won't you try, try, try, try, try,
try Jah Love
Love,Love,Love,Love..."

- Stevie Wonder
-
as performed by Third World

In the early 1980s I became a fan of roots reggae music, following a serendipitous conversation about spirituality with a small group of Rastafarian musicians one evening at an Ethiopian restaurant in West Los Angeles.  No, I was not (nor did I become) a spliff-smoking, reggae-hypnotized pot head...nor did I meet any.  In fact, I never smoked pot...contrary to broad assumptions that have been made in light of my love for reggae music.  I did, happily, dance with other fans...college students, bankers, artists, and mothers with babies..at outdoor concerts where dread-locked listeners swayed in the sunlight, and children twirled and bobbed to music that called even the most unwilling listener to rise and dance in place. I was not a Rastafarian. I was then, and still am, a spiritual thinker who loves meeting and listening to the ideas of other spiritual explorers.  And my immersion into the reggae community was filled opportunities to ponder great truths among many God-inspired thinkers.

Over the course of that brief chapter in my life, I saw many of the reggae artists who were touring at the time.  Because of my friendship with a well-loved musician from within the Rastafarian community, I was blessed to meet and break bread with many of his friends. Not only did I have a front row seat to performances and informal jamming, but to many of the after-concert breakfasts in small cafes or on the beach just before dawn.

These were fascinating times.  The people I met were some of the most socially responsible and charitable I have every known.  Many of them lived lives of quiet generosity, bringing hope to people who had suffered injustice and families facing abject poverty. They cared for widowed mothers and orphaned neighbors, they worried and fretted, and prayed...oh, how they prayed.

So it was surprising to me when some years later, while working on a recording of hymns, it was suggested that a much-loved spiritual text from my own faith tradition had been "violated" because it had been set to reggae music and included rhythms that were decidedly Jamaican.  There was grave concern that because reggae music was long associated with the Rastafarian practice of smoking marijuana, this would diminish the spiritual impact and purity of those texts.  I was confused and saddened.  It was so contrary to my experience with Rastafarians and reggae musicians to experience any sense of judgment about the spiritual practices and traditions of others.  To see their practices misjudged and misunderstood was heartbreaking.

I mentioned this to a colleague who was working on a parallel musical project and his response has stayed with me for over twenty years.

His insights were simply: that which expresses the most love will elevate everything.  If reggae music is an expression of great love and charity, it can only serve to support and highlight the beauty of that beloved text.  If the text is an expression of great wisdom and compassion, it can only serve to bring a new sense of spiritual beauty to reggae music by association.

He then mentioned a statement from Mary Baker Eddy's chapter on "Marriage" in 
Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures,,  and in the context of this situation, it made me smile...and it continues to bring me peace each time I read it.  She says, "If one is better than the other, as must always be the case, the other pre-eminently needs good company."

This brought me such sweet peace in thinking about the marriage of my love for the purity and beauty of the spiritual text in question, and the reggae music that had always brought me into such a lovely sense of community and was inspired by such profound charity. 

.  Just as Orff's "Carmina Burana" and Mozart's own "Requiem" were demonized for a generation of movie-goers by their association with films that had satanic themes, so reggae music has sometimes been taken in associative social directions which have encouraged listeners to lose sight of its deeply spiritual roots. But these musical genres each have their own spiritual truth and beauty...however obsure it may seem at any given point... and I will never forget that I discovered the powerful rhythms of reggae music through the heart of a man who loved Jah, and wanted others to know Jah love.

That was over twenty years ago, and I am so grateful to be able to say that in worship services and praise meetings, my own faith now, proudly, sings hymns with African, Appalachian, European, East Asian and gospel music themes and rhythms.

The other night as I heard reggae music pouring like warm honey from our son's itunes collection, I thought again of that ragtag group of Rastafarian musicians...of those sun-splashed days and the soft summer nights when Bob Marley, Jimmy Cliff, Black Uhuru, Third World, Rita, Ziggy (as a little boy), the Melody Makers, and others filled the air with the undulating rhythms of Jamaica. These musical "friends" made me look at myself, my preconceptions, and my world in new ways...and I couldn't help but remember this beautiful "
hymn" from Third World. 

I hope you will let this video of them singing, "T
ry Jah Love," live at Sunsplash in 1983 touch your heart with "the power of the Word."  I am listing the full lyrics below.  It is a message I hope we can all unite in embracing...and by the way, "Jah" is just another name for God. 

always with Love.... Jah Love, divine Love, Father-Mother Love...

Kate
Kate Robertson, CS

"A lonely soul was I without direction
I didn't know which way that I had to go
I sought the clues to
life's unanswered questions
My mind's heart had to know

I heard you call
while wandering through the darkness
I'd walk a million miles
to find that endless voice
That speaks to me when I am in temptation
Echoing my choice

Then you said, 'Seek ye shall find
I've been with you through all time
And if you're thirsty
I will quench you
With my love

And if you're hungry
I will feed you
With my word
And all I ask of you
is that you love as I do

And if you lose your way
I'll lead you to my love
From a sinful life I'll cleanse you
In my love
For creation bears a witness of my love
You should know it's time
for the world to try Jah love

The only love that can bring peace is
Jah, Jah Love
So won't you try, try, try, try, try, try, try
Jah Love
Love,Love,Love,Love

I know that
Without it there'd be no tomorrow
Try Jah Love
Who lifts broken hearts up from sorrow
Try Jah Love

So won't you try, try, try, try, try, try Jah Love
Love,Love,Love,Love

A timeless thought a touch of close encounter
Your love embraced me and took over my life
And now I'm new your strength has made me
Change my ways from wrong to right

Please Father please this world
we live in has faltered
Deliver us from all this evil and pain
God Bless the heart that loves unto his brother
Praising out your Name

Then he said, 'Be not Afraid
Those who believe I will save'
I wonder
When will the world wake up and start to
Try Jah Love
People have to make up their mind to
try Jah, Jah Love
So won't you try, try, try, try, try, try Jah Love
Love,Love,Love,Love

I know that
Once you begin you won't regret
If you try Jah Love
The ultimate life satisfaction
Jah, Jah Love
So won't you try, try, try, try, try, try Jah Love
Love,Love,Love,Love

You know that
There's no excuse for no one not to
Try Jah Love
Right is the only reason to...try Jah Love
The key to inner satisfaction...Jah, Jah Love
So won't you try, try, try, try, try, try Jah Love
Love,Love,Love,Love

Try Jah Love
Jah,Jah Love..."

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