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Thursday, November 7, 2013

Songstories 18 — Apocalypse (2001, WLP)

There are hits and there are misses, I'm afraid. We write songs because we feel they are worth writing, they have something unique to contribute to the dialogue, etc. But on the receiving end of that "gift" is the church, incarnate as it is in local parishes and publishers. Sometimes the perceived needs of the church and publisher don't match the songwriter's need to write a song. In fact, that happens most of the time. What is wonderful, or has been so far for songwriters and the church, is that there is so often a mesh. Of course it is not an accident. It's the way the church works, and community of need and charism. And publishers are to be commended for keeping at it when so many of our songs, which are usually good in themselves, miss the mark. It must be worth it for the few that actually "hit" with people's prayer life and imagination.

Since we're in the last weeks of the church year, I wanted to feature a song of mine called "Apocalypse," from a 2001 collection entitled Keep Awake. Both songs are songs for the last Sundays of Ordinary Time. I may get to the title song, "Keep Awake," by the end of this month. This Sunday's gospel, as I mentioned in yesterday's post, talks about God as a God of the living, as an answer to the plea for just in the community of believers on behalf of those who were defeated in death in this world by God's rivals. The danger with that may be a kind of quietism that is content to wait out injustice in this world in exchange for a better life in some future world. But that doesn't seem to be the point at all: Jesus is all about the empire of God "at hand," here and now, right before our eyes in this world. The apocalyptic literature of Israel in the two centuries preceding Jesus and that of Christianity in the century or so after his death are also about restoration of the dead to life in this world, life of which they have been cheated, and furthermore, about God's use of a "human being" (one like a son of man) to bring that about.

I am only outlining the edges of this right now because in both "Apocalypse" and "Keep Awake" Claire and I were trying to write a song that hinted both at the injustice we experience in this world and hope for a divine solution, through human beings (sons and daughters of people) in this world. In any event, I don't know that either of these songs ever got used outside of my own parish, for whatever reason. Maybe we were wrong in the way we expressed the scriptural or faith-reality, or maybe it didn't match the faith of music-directors, or maybe it was the way the material was marketed, or some combination of these things. It's also true that the liturgy (the Mass, I mean here, since that's the most common way most of us worship liturgically) is, at its heart and seen from a certain perspective, not amicable to the song form. So it's hard to break into the repertoire anyway, for structural reasons, and there are all the human reasons as well, and then commerce is in the picture.

Anyway, I like what we did, or tried to do, in "Apocalypse," which is to see the world as it is, and announce a different world, one that is within the grasp of God with the cooperation of the human race. Maybe without our cooperation, but I'm not so sure of that. I'm not all that on with a coercive divinity. I suppose, when we can see "beyond the veil," ("apocalypse" is from two Greek words that mean "to remove a veil" or uncover) we'll know better. Truth be told, it seems to me that seeing "beyond the veil," seeing the genuine apocalypse, is seeing into this world, not out of it.

Lyrics of "Apocalypse," by Claire Cooney and Rory Cooney:

I have dreamed a dream
I have dreamed the strangest dream
And my spirit is troubled within me
Who can understand my dream?
How this silent, fearsome thing
Like a Beast prowls the country within me?

Will you send a sign
O mysterious Divine
Send a spirit to speak from within me
For I fear to dream alone.
Put your finger to the stone,
Bring the meaning apparent within me.

Then a change of scene:
I am beckoned from the dream
To a world red with hatred and fire
Children starving in the street
Bombs exploding at their feet
And their cries and
The skies filled with fire

And this world of fright
Does not stay within the night,
Will not stay bound by moonlight and shadow
For the world beneath the sun
Overthrown by fist and gun
And the blood cries from pavement and meadow.

Will you send a sign
O mysterious Divine
Send your spirit to wake those who slumber
Put your finger to the wall
With a message for us all
Who ignore  the oppressed without number.

From the peoples’ cries
Will a savior arise
Strong as God, but like us, born of woman,
Is it woman, or a man
Who is hero for the land?
I can only be sure  it was human.

Let us sing the dream,
Sing a new world into being
Like a child being born from within us.
Let us stand together still
Like a city on a hill
Like the lanterns we can’t hide within us.

God of my dreams, burn in me…
God of my dreams, burn in me…

Copyright © 2001 World Library Publications. All rights reserved.

We don’t have many songs that try to incorporate apocalyptic imagery responsibly (at least, I think we did it responsibly), seeing in the “human being” figure the crucified Christ, and in the crucified Christ, humanity. "Apocalypse" has a Sade/Cassandra Wilson thing happening musically (well, for me, Michael Franks, but somebody updated it ☺), and it’s one of my favorite songs from Keep Awake. I love including it in our concert repertoire. We’re hoping that the classy Meredith Dean Augustin might record it someday, like she did with “Is This Goodness God?” If not her, then maybe Sade or Cassandra Wilson.

Apocalypse - Keep Awake (iTunes link) Link to Sheet music (songbook)

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