Roundup: Facing up to our faults, “How Prayer Works,” and more

Sundays are not counted toward the forty days of Lent (as they are feast days, not fast days), so I’m taking a break from my usual Lenten format today and for the next four Sundays to offer some supplemental content, such as a roundup of video, article, podcast, and event links, or a poem. Tomorrow I’ll resume with “Day 5” of the music-art pairings.

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DANCE VIDEO: “Lord, Forgive Me,” choreographed by Keone Madrid: A short dance number to a penitential song by hip-hop/R&B artist Mali Music, choreographed by Keone Madrid. The dancers embody stumbling, floundering, aching, weakness, shame, and pleading, as well as openness, humility, surrender, and peace—various postures/feelings associated with the act of confession. Starting at 42 seconds in, a succession of individuals stand or kneel in relative stillness at the right side of the frame, as if receiving the forgiveness they seek, while their dancing form is visible in the mirror.  

Keone, the man in the maroon shirt in the opening shot of the video, is one-half of the choreo, dancing, and directing duo Keone and Mari [previously], whose other recent work includes choreographing the adorable (!) 2021 Disney animated short Us Again (see trailer). Storytelling is at the root of their work, with themes including marriage, family, faith, and struggle.

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NEW SONG: “No More Hiding” by Ben Thomas: For the past few years singer-songwriter and spiritual teacher Ben Thomas has been writing what he calls “Mantrasongs,” songs “infused with intention” that are meant to get stuck in our head and connect us more fully to ourselves, others, and the Divine. Inspired by Fr. Richard Rohr’s book Breathing Under Water: Spirituality and the Twelve Steps, this January Thomas started releasing a series of Mantrasongs on YouTube based on the Twelve Steps of Recovery, a tool developed in 1938 for Alcoholics Anonymous. “The 12 Steps of Recovery aren’t just for those addicted to substances,” Thomas writes. “They’re for all of us learning how to create lives of health and wholeness, free of the addictive patterns of thinking, seeing, and being that keep us living at a fraction of our capacity.”

“No More Hiding” is the fifth song in Thomas’s Twelve Steps series. It corresponds to step 5 of the twelve-step program: “Admit to God, to yourself, and to another human being the exact nature of your wrongs.” Christians would call this process “confessing our sins.” It can be a scary thing to do. It requires tremendous vulnerability and honesty. But oh, what freedom comes from confession! He sings here with Jenny Miller. The preceding songs in the series are:

  1. “A New Level of Let Go” (Admit that you are powerless over your addiction—that your life has become unmanageable.)
  2. “Make Me Whole Again” (Believe that a Power greater than yourself can restore you to sanity.)
  3. “To Know What Is” (Make a decision to turn your will and your life over to the care of God.)
  4. “Freedom in the Light” (Make a searching and fearless moral inventory of yourself.)

Look out for a new Mantrasong each week. You can receive free song downloads from Ben Thomas by becoming a Patreon supporter.

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VIRTUAL EVENT: “Writing on Music, Meaning, and the Ineffable,” March 24, 2022, 6 p.m. ET: It’s been said that writing about music (or visual art, for that matter) is as pointless and impossible as dancing about architecture. Music and art need only be experienced; studied analysis or explanation lessens their impact and is reductive. While I can see the reasoning behind this assertion, and I often debate whether to comment on specific pieces that I post here versus let the art do its work without my intervention, I do (obviously!) feel that there is value in writing about the arts, and music writer Joel Heng Hartse does too. In this virtual launch event for his new book Dancing about Architecture Is a Reasonable Thing to Do, Hartse will be joined in conversation with poet Mischa Willett and musician John Van Deusen about art, faith, and criticism. Organized by Image journal.

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POETRY UNBOUND PODCAST EPISODES:

Poet and theologian Pádraig Ó Tuama hosts these wonderful fifteen-minute immersive readings of contemporary poems selected from diverse sources. Here are two from last season that I particularly appreciated.

>> “How Prayer Works” by Kaveh Akbar: Kaveh Akbar is an Iranian American Muslim poet and scholar. In this narrative prose poem of his, two brothers, seven years apart, turn to face east in their small shared room when their prayer is interrupted by a surprising noise, setting off an eruption of laughter. “This poem holds the idea of prayer, which can often be an abstract one, with the physical sensation of what’s right in front of you, what’s happening, who’s right in front of you, how are you being with each other, what’s going on, how can you be drawn towards each other—and that that itself is the answer to prayer.”

>> “The Only Cab Service of Farmington, Maine” by Aria Abner: “This is a poem, really, that’s an exploration of place and all of the emotion and pain and beauty that can be gathered into memory of place,” Ó Tuama says. “A poem about conversation and about how you reach the edge of conversation.” Poet Aria Abner was born in Germany to Afghan parents but has lived in the United States since age eighteen. She writes about being picked up in a cab by a man who served in Afghanistan in the US Marines, and how he tries to connect with her through that geographic commonality but to little avail. “She is feeling estranged by the ways foreigners are speaking about a place that she’s from but hasn’t been able to grow up in.”

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