Fellow Passengers: This week’s Promise Passage (Genesis 12:1-3) transports me to the apartment of Wanda Hernández Murga and Orestes Roca Santana in Matanzas, Cuba, October 2010. For the month I was in Cuba, Wanda and Orestes were my neighbors, and I broke bread with them many times. I found them to be kindred spirits and soul mates on many levels, music being one of the main levels. We share a love of classic rock, especially the Beatles, and I also discovered a common delight in the old hymns. They tell the story of an early dating experience, when they were with a group riding bikes to the home of a friend about an hour outside of town, and it started to rain. Wanda and Orestes rode side by side in the rain, harmonizing on old hymns the whole way. The same kind of defiant joy marked our experience one night when we sat in their apartment after being frustrated by one of Cuba’s many power outages. We sang for hours, thumbing through the hymnal and singing one hymn after another with great gusto and four part harmony. My favorite of the night was waltzing along on Usa Mi Vida (Make Me a Blessing) and hearing Orestes belt out the tenor’s counter line in the chorus. That night gave Wanda the inspiration for what she calls one of her “proyectos locos,” crazy projects – she wants to introduce the old hymns to the younger generation, but she knows that Cuba’s teenagers will have no interest in the traditional musical accompaniment. So she asked if I could get some American musicians to lay down background tracks to the hymns in the styles of grunge rock or glam metal or one of the other genres the kids there are listening to these days. Then they’ll get Cuban singers to record the vocals. She said she’d send me a list of 15 or 20 favorites for us to choose from. I just got the list, and I’m happy to say that Make Me a Blessing is right up there, number 3 on the list. I’ll be eager to hear what my musician friends will be able to do when I ask them to play an arrangement of it in the style of Mötley Crüe or Nirvana.
I thought about the song Make Me a Blessing when I read today’s story of Abraham’s covenant call. The promise of this covenant is incredibly far-reaching – All peoples on earth will be blessed through you. What a thought – that this wandering Aramean, this marginal middle-eastern nomad, would become the fount of blessing for all families on earth. Blessing is a word with deep significance, inferring a life of affirmation and dignity and meaning. There is a real sense in which this promise is on its way to fulfillment, as several billion people – close to half the world’s population – find affirmation and dignity and meaning in their lives though a faith that has its roots in Father Abraham. His promise has waltzed its way through Jewish, Christian, and Moslem worldviews, with the tenor of each of these faiths influenced by the clarion call to be a blessing to the world. The fact that there are many competing counter-lines in the choruses of these great world religions does not diminish the underlying blessing that so many families have felt as a result of their faith. The counter-lines simply remind us that the promise of Genesis 12 has to include Jesus’ blessing of peacemakers if it’s going to be all-encompassing, reaching all the families of the earth. This makes me think of another old hymn, one re-done with new lyrics by Pete Seeger: All people that on earth do dwell, sing out for peace ‘tween heaven and hell, ‘tween east and west and low and high, sing peace on earth and sea and sky. Between the black, white, red and brown, between the wilderness and town, sing peace between the near and far, ‘tween Allah and six-pointed star.
Such a peace sure seems unlikely, but then again, so does the hope of Genesis 12. My experience in Cuba, though, reminds me that unlikely does not mean impossible. The very idea that this tiny island that our country has alienated and demonized and embargoed for over 50 years could produce such a rich resource of blessing is a long shot, indeed. But all you have to do is waltz into Wanda and Orestes’ apartment, and you’ll find that the promise of Abraham lives on, as these two purveyors of proyectos locos continue to greatly enrich the lives of countless people who are blessed to sit with them and sing with them and find harmony lines across the great divides: out in the highways and byways of life, many are weary and sad, carry the sunshine where darkness is rife, making the sorrowing glad. . .
As always, your feedback and comments are welcome. Photo of Wanda Hernández Murga is by Chris Bell of the Circle of Mercy Congregation in Asheville, NC.