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Spiritual Yearning: Ceremony for "A Heart at the Heart of Life"

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Editorial Reviews

In some ways, practicing a religion might be likened to practicing a musical instrument. Building proficiency on a specific instrument often provides the first and most fundamental step toward a much fuller appreciation of music in general. But beyond the technical proficiency of making and appreciating sound lies a possibility of beginning to understand what the music is saying… of playing in a band or an orchestra with other instruments and other musicians… of listening and responding to spontaneous and perhaps even unexpected musical phrases as if participating in a conversation.

That is essentially what the original creators and singers of the Negro Spirituals actually did, not just in music and religion, but in all of life. While the modern Western world has tended and still tends to imagine Africa as one big jungle full of uncivilized black people, the linguistic, cultural, religious and ethnic diversity of the literally hundreds of peoples who were lumped together and brought to the Americas in chains during the Transatlantic slave trade would easily exceed that of most cities in the modern Western world, even today. This work draws on diverse religious, cultural, and musical perspectives to creatively imagine the process though which such broadly diverse peoples overcame their differences to build the mutually supportive communities that empowered so many to survive and even to thrive despite the institutionalized war of terrorism that was constantly waged upon them.

Howard Thurman’s interpretation of the spiritual “Wade in the Water” provides the foundation of this imaginative work, based on Thurman’s metaphor of diverse people supporting one another through times of great adversity and coming to realize that “at the heart of life there is a Heart.” The skeletal structure rising up from the imaginary foundation comes from a passage in the Yoruba Odu Ifa in which dew drops are called upon to “come and make repairs.” Perspectives from Islamic and other traditions are included as well within in the context of the “ring shout” that brought so many diverse peoples together as one, to confront centuries of captivity and oppression in the Americas.

Prior to reading Thurman’s interpretations, I had never given much thought to what types of people the original creators and singers of the spirituals might have been--other than assuming that they were black and enslaved. Reading Thurman and other sources, however, left the impression that they were often profoundly more intelligent and spiritual than their enslavers, but often in languages and modes of discourse that the enslavers either could not understand, or would brutally punish the enslaved for displaying, or both.

So the heartbeat of this project resonates in a fundamental belief that the creators and singers of the spirituals had something of great value to say, and still have a great deal to offer, but the form of the message is one that the conceptual structures of modern Western thought and communication neither convey nor comprehend. This highly subjective and creative work focuses on conveying, at least my impression of, what that message might be, in a way that departs the limitations of linear, Western, either-or logic without sacrificing any of the logic or intelligence that the modern West claims to have originated. On a personal level, moving beyond the confines of the narrowly linear, Euro-centric perspective that I once mistook for broadly diverse and international has been and continues to be both difficult and rewarding.

“Spiritual Yearning” offers an audiobook presentation of the book chapter with the same name in A Heart at the Heart of Life: Negro Spirituals, African Cosmologies, and Optical Physics in a Contemporary Search for Common Ground. The “common ground” reference comes from Thurman’s writings, and “optical physics” resonant structures link the music with the African ring shout cosmology.

This product is manufactured on demand using CD-R recordable media.'s standard return policy will apply.

Track Listings

Disc: 1

  1. Salty Breezes
  2. Places and Names
  3. Prayer is Better than Sleep
  4. Wade in the Water
  5. Blind Man Sat on the Road and Cried
  6. Sometimes I Feel like a Motherless Child
  7. Mary Had a Baby
  8. Heaven Heaven
  9. We are Climbing Nature\x92s Ladder
  10. There is a Balm in Gilead
  11. Deep River
  12. Slavery Chain Done Broke at Last
  13. Harriet Tubman
  14. Shout that Dam Down

Product Details

  • Audio CD (January 25, 2016)
  • Original Release Date: January 14, 2016
  • Number of Discs: 1
  • Label: Peace Jungle
  • Run Time: 63 minutes
  • ASIN: B01B29U81I
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)

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Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
brilliant and bold. thank you Hassaun for your words, wisdom and curiosity.
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Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
Great book! Everyone should read this.
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