Good writing, with a strong point and with life oozing out.

Psalters

February 23, 2007

a tribal yell
It is difficult to say why I love the Psalters so. Maybe it is their principled disregard for the conventions of American culture. Maybe it’s the fact that they live in a bio-diesel-burning bus. Maybe it’s the fact that their music is amazing: very percussive, they are one of those rare groups that are tight enough that they can stray away from the strict rhythm of a song, yet always return to the exact time of it. Maybe it’s the fact that they use apparently incongruous instruments like banjo, djembe, elephant bells and cow bells (though they could use more cowbell), harmonica, didjeridu, accordion, and hurdy gurdy. Maybe it’s the fact that their hurdy gurdy player freaking built the thing during a two-year apprenticeship with an instrument maker. Maybe it’s the fact that, due to his wanderlust, this apprenticeship stretched out to four years.

Or maybe it’s the fact that this is the ‘sounds like’ description on their myspace:

the percussive clank of chain links attached to dozens of defiant stomping feet across the marbled business floor desert, fists raised high, open mouthed screaming brittle sirens over the hum of computers, air filtration systems and the muddy thud of a thousand apathetic hearts

All to say, being reunited with them and their music in Philly and Camden a couple of weeks ago was heavenly. Or maybe I should say it was earthy. Or maybe it was both, and that’s what I love. Having them play Wayfaring Stranger and lead a drum circle on Friday was ethereal, their background instrumental was about the best thing I could imagine absorbing while I walked the labyrinth on Saturday, and concluding our liturgical prayer by singing The Lord’s Prayer with them was, well, perfect. It was the musical equivalent of running with Bill Rodgers, or meeting Jon Krakauer, or having your picture taken by iPete.

The Psalters have given me fuel for the arduous journey of the last year by presenting an audacious and humble and Biblical and honest and conflicted view of God, as is found in this song from their interpretation of a traditional catholic liturgy, The Divine Liturgy of the Wretched Exiles:

Gloria

Glory to God in the highest
peace to his people on earth
Glory to God on his throne
His vengeance is merciful

To his weeping children
He gives a mother’s comfort
Who denies his hand
He gives bitterest rebuke

His wings are a refuge
for all those who run to Him
His voice will shatter
the shelters of man

Praise God who brings delivery
Praise God who shuts the womb
Praise God who brings delivery
Praise God who shuts the womb

He vindicates the little ones
and gives worth to their suffering
The rich man’s bones will scatter
he carries nothing with him

Praise God who brings delivery
Praise God who shuts the womb
Praise God who brings delivery
Praise God who shuts the womb

He holds the outcasts’ hands
His nearness is life
God will break the arms of peace-talkers
with hearts of war

Praise God who brings delivery
Praise God who shuts the womb
Praise God who brings delivery
Praise God who shuts the womb

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