Friday, August 19, 2016

In the Midst of Death We Are in Life: Spiritual Resources for Living (Gracefully) Through It All

Legendary New Orleans jazz clarinetist Pete Fountain died on 6 August, and his funeral was held two days ago at St. Louis cathedral in New Orleans. Charles Pierce has uploaded to his "Politics" blog at Esquire video footage of Irma Thomas singing "Precious Lord" — so beautifully and reverently — during the offertory part of the funeral Mass. 

Pete Fountain's funeral was followed by a traditional "second line" send-off frequently accorded to jazz greats in New Orleans. The second line, which begins with a dirge as the casket is brought from the church to the cemetery, and then breaks into celebration, has deep roots in African culture. It's one of many precious gifts of African culture to American culture and American Christianity, without which, I'd maintain, American Christianity would be bleakly pallid, indeed.

New Orleans was devastated by a hurricane not many years ago. Much of south Louisiana has had devastating floods recently.

Even with these horrific events, even in the midst of death, pain, suffering, as the second line for Pete Fountain's funeral reminds us, there's a long tradition in south Louisiana of sending people off to God at the end of their life's journey with mourning followed by celebration. In the midst of death, we're in life, and we keep finding ways to celebrate life even as we mourn.

I find this approach to life encouraging — and challenging. I hope you'll find the video, which appears to have been uploaded to YouTube by Dylan James, as moving to watch as I did. You'll see several others, equally wonderful, in the clicklist beside it if you click the YouTube label in the lower right-hand corner of the video above as you watch.

There are so many riches online that make life in the Internet age so amazing for those of us who avail ourselves of those riches. One of these I've discovered in the past year is NPR's "Tiny Desk" series. I knew nothing of René Maria before NPR recently added the video I've just inserted here to its "Tiny Desk" series.

The second song she sings here, "This Is (Not) a Protest Song": so powerful. Moving at the visceral level. My innards twist, hurt a bit, feel tugged on, as I listen to this song. It makes me royally ashamed at how little I try to understand and reach out. René begins explaining around the 6.00 mark that she wrote it and sings it because her own family's history intersects with the issues of homelessness, addiction, mental health struggles about which she sings — issues that touch the lives of many families other than her own, it surely should be said.

And as she "proves" by this song, all those people we pass by on the streets, in need, struggling with drugs and alcoholism: they're our family members, too.

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