I had the wonderful opportunity to spend this past Shabbat with the Jewish Community of Amherst. Like Jewish communities the world over, we sang the Song of the Sea — an ancient victory song that Torah envisions the people offering in response to being rescued from Pharaoh’s army on their way from slavery to freedom.
I led a workshop Saturday evening in which we wrote songs to accompany us — and even propel us forward — on our own journeys. It was, as it always is, a total joy for me to use my voice to bring others into song. The songs that I carry have always carried me. What a true blessing to be able to help others unearth the songs that can carry them.
One thing that was highlighted for me this weekend was how much is at stake in choosing to carry and be carried by song. The resistance we are up against in seeking liberation for ourselves and others is real and it’s not just “out there.”
As my friend Alden Solovy writes, “…leaving Egypt it easy/Leaving Egypt behind is a struggle.” We carry our wounds, we carry all that has hurt and trapped us in the past. And so the movement from stuckness to freedom is ongoing; the work of liberation never ends (whether for individuals, families, or nations).
But we can choose to carry with us the songs that sing us all the way to freedom.
Sometimes these are old and/or familiar songs. The Song of the Sea itself is thought to be one of the most ancient texts in all of Torah. And as we talked about the songs we carry in the hardest parts of the journey, many were reminded of “We Shall Overcome” and other songs that have pulsed at the heart of liberation movements.
My own life has also been enriched immeasurably by the process of writing new songs for myself and others. Whether with communities through my scholar-in-residence work or in the sacred one-on-one space of unearthing sonic amulets (songs I write for individuals seeking healing and growth), I feel so lucky that songwriting — which began as something I did only for myself — can now be a central part of what I offer to others.
The more work I have done writing sonic amulets for others, the more I continue to deepen my own song practice. One piece that I shared with the wonderful folks at JCA this past Shabbat was just such a song. I wrote it to help me face a particularly daunting day. As I sang it in the middle of JCA’s wonderfully musical Shabbat evening service, I realized how much it embodies, for me, the deep desire to move from stuckness to freedom that lives in our every breath. Have a listen: