Fellow Passengers: This week’s Prophetic Passage* (Jeremiah 2) transports me to the intimate setting of the Southern Appalachian Repertory Theatre in 2007, where Kim and went to see our friend Peter Tamm in a production of The Fantasticks, the Tom Jones-Harvey Schmidt play billed as a celebration of love, lost love, and ultimately, true love. This longest running musical, which ended its off-Broadway run in 2002 after 42 years, is best known for the song, Try to Remember. I would love to have heard Jerry Orbach as El Gallo singing that in the original 1960 production. It’s a nostalgic number, sung from the cold of December, about the tender days gone by when life was slow and mellow, a golden age when no one wept except the willow. Each verse ends with the refrain, try to remember, and if you remember then follow, follow, follow.
Jeremiah could have provided inspiration for Tom Jones in writing the lyrics for The Fantasticks. The prophet’s book is a remembrance of love, a lament over love lost, and a call to follow the path back to true love. Here in today’s passage Jeremiah has the Lord singing, like El Gallo, of a better time, a golden age, a September of sorts. I remember the devotion of your youth, your love as a bride, how you followed me in the wilderness, in a land not sown. Jeremiah goes on to recount those supposedly blissful times when they followed the way through the wilderness, when God led them around endless obstacles, and brought them into the promised land of plenty. But it was there that love was lost. The people couldn’t stand prosperity and started their affairs of the heart in alliances with other nations and other gods. The people traded in their songs of hope for the sad refrain, It is hopeless, for I have loved strangers, and after them I will go. They are stained with the lifeblood of the innocent poor. The prophet spends a great deal of time lamenting the sorry state of affairs, and it’s not until the next chapter that we hear the refrain to remember and follow, follow, follow.
When I read Jeremiah’s nostalgic look back at Israel’s days of September, when life was so tender and dreams were kept beside the pillow, I have to scratch my head a bit. This was the wilderness time he’s describing, right? I don’t remember reading that it was such a golden age. It was a time when the people wandered off track and worshiped the golden calf. It was a time of griping and bitter complaint. It was a time when freed slaves longed to go back to Egypt. And yet, somehow, there’s this idealism in the prophet’s heart that there were some good old days that they could remember and follow. It makes me think of the folks today who long for America to return to some mythic era of pre-9/11, pre-Vietnam, an age of innocence, but when we look back at those nostalgic ages we see slavery and segregation and the gilded age and all sorts of ills we conveniently forget in our call to follow the path back to that age. It reminds me of Langston Hughes poem, Let America Be America Again, where the echoing voice ends the nostalgic stanzas with the line It never was America to me. And he concludes, O, yes, I say it plain, America never was America to me, And yet I swear this oath– America will be! Try to remember, not how it was, but remember the ideal, the possibility, and follow, not a path back to the wilderness, but ahead to the days when the ember of love really will billow. Now that sounds fantastick!
How about you? Where does this Prophetic Passage take you on your journey of faith? Feel free to comment.