"You would not cry, if you knew that by looking deeply at the rain you would still see the cloud."
- Thich Nhat Hanh
As I’ve pondered the announcement of Thich Nhat Hanh awaiting the end of his life, I have begun to wonder if my Sunday Song and Rumination should be called Eulogies to the People We Need Most.
It was Martin Luther King day last week and since the announcement about Thich Nhat Hanh, I have been thinking a lot about something I learned in my research for Point Vierge - Thomas Merton’s Journey in Song.
In March 1968, a Quaker couple from Atlanta, June and John Yungblut, were organizing a retreat that was to be held at Gethsemani Monastery, with Martin Luther King, Thomas Merton and Thich Nhat Hanh. The retreat was delayed due to Martin Luther King going to Memphis, where he was assassinated on April 4th, 1968. The retreat never took place, and Merton died 6 months later.
Since I learned that, I have often wondered what sort of dialogue could have been recorded at that retreat. What sort of innovation might have been masterminded, or at the very least might have been picked up on in future generations. I’ve even thought of considering each of them and what they might have said, to construct some sort of conversation in my head that could give further clues to the evolution of love.
Each truth tellers to be sure, but also each with an ability to name sickness and disease of violence and hatred, bigotry and systemic racism, while standing in a higher level of consciousness.
This week, as I went about my days with my children, and experienced a bit of an ache for my husband to finally be home (he got home just hours ago), I examined my own heart. I have been haunted by a story that James Finley tells about Thich Nhat Hanh. James told me that when Thich Nhat Hanh saw the infamous photo of the young man putting a flower in the barrel of a gun of a National Guardsman, he said, “that person is doing violence to that soldier, because the soldier is doing his duty. And the person is mocking.” James Finley goes on to say “you can have the ideology of peace and use it to do violence with it.”
For me, this is why I think that it is a damn shame that the arts and comedy are continuously sacrificed first in dualistic times, before other more practical needs. It brings dimension to flat places of only needing story for allegory. Of only needing to draw on the ancients, to make a thin, moral point in the present. Love in action is an art form, and good art can never be rendered to the literal. The art forms must hold!
For me, making art makes me dig deeper and work harder to make shapes out of the intangible. To speak the ineffable. To let myself be a “child of the unknown” and let that great mystery find its way into the music. So MLK and Thich Nhat Hahn showed us an art form, already forged in part by Mahatma Ghandi who famously, when asked if he was a Hindu, said “yes I am. I am also a Christian, a Muslim, a Buddhist and a Jew.” This is not wishy washy, shallow relativism, friends! He had reached the point of seeing what Jesus meant when he said “love your neighbour AS yourself”. Not as much. But as.
So, this week’s song lyrics are a line from Thomas Merton's Turning Toward the World (page 325), and is especially dedicated to Martin Luther King and to our beloved Thich Nhat Hanh.
Here is something Christian in the history of our time.
I am in gratitude to this art form of love in action that challenges me exactly where I am.
Alana Levandoski is a song and chant writer, recording artist and music producer, in the Christian tradition, who lives with her family on a regenerative farm on the Canadian prairies.