What is the power of a song? It is huge! A song can bring memories, laughter, sorrow, conviction, inspiration to keep on keeping on in the worst and best of times. This morning I have songs that are new to me, but tell a very ancient story, drifting through my mind and heart.
This past Sunday evening, the eve of Labor Day, Hal and I went to the theater – the Buell Theater at the DCPA in Denver. We had been given tickets to the play, the musical, really the contemporary opera, Hadestown. We had very little idea about what we were to see as we left Fort Collins that afternoon listening to the music on Spotify. I left the theater later that night full to the brim with thoughts, feelings, new insights, and new questions about being human at this time human history.
Hadestown is a contemporary retelling of the classic Greek myth of the poet/singer-songwriter, Orpheus and his pure, but ill-fated love with the beautiful, Eurydice. In Hadestown, their story is set within the context of the Persephone/Hades myth. In the classic tale, Persephone is the daughter of the goddess of fertility, harvest and the earth, Demeter. Hades, the god of the underworld, sees her walking in her mother’s fields of flowers and falls in love with her, captures her and brings her to live in the underworld. As Demeter pines for her daughter, the world grows cold and barren – dying. Persephone strikes a deal with her husband, Hades. In a cycle of six-month intervals, she will return to her mother in the upper world. The earth will bloom. There is abundance and harvest for all. Thus, we have the seasons.
Yet in the Hadestown contemporary retelling of the ancient stories and their archetypes, the world is suffering because Persephone’s cycle of movement between the underworld and the upper world is out of sync. Seasons are getting too hot and too cold. Sound familiar? Into this contemporary setting, comes Orpheus, the son of the muse, Calliope, a brilliant young artiste, who wants to heal the world with his songs. He falls in love with the poor, and very practical, street savvy Eurydice, woos her with his songs, with promises of the safety of eternal love and they are wed. But caught up in his composing, Orpheus, fails to see the immediacy of the destruction of climate change and its effects upon Eurydice as she tries to scramble together a living for them. She leaves to seek food and firewood and ends up beguiled by the promises of Hades, king of the underworld. She makes a fatal contract with him so that she will have food and shelter and is ushered into the out-of-control capitalist society of Hades’ kingdom, Hadestown. All the workers there have no memory of their lives above ground in the sun. They toil interminably, singing, “Keep your head down to keep your head!” in the mines and the oil fields of the underworld. They build a wall to keep out the enemy, Poverty, that threatens Hades’ control of his riches. Sound familiar again? When Orpheus finally finishes his song to heal the world of the ravages of turmoil, famine, flood, and poverty, he looks around for Eurydice and finds her gone. His search begins and he is led to the underworld to bring her home.
Yet, we know how the ancient myth ends….in the tragedy of self-doubt when Orpheus cannot keep his rescue bargain with Hades and loses his love forever to the underworld. I sat in my seat, watching and almost trying to will, a different ending to the story! In this retelling, Orpheus does sing his healing song for Hades, Persephone and all those captured in the underworld. Those enslaved are inspired to freedom. They will follow Orpheus as he takes Eurydice home. Even Hades, glimpses a lost love and joy that he had long forgotten. But the musical’s telling ends just as the old myth. And Orpheus’ is felled by the three Fates who predict he does not the strength of identity to pull everyone, including Eurydice, out of hell. We are left crestfallen once again. But the narrator of the story, Hermes, sings to us in sadness and hope that we sing this sad song, over and over, because one day we might sing our way into a new ending. And at the curtain call the cast lifts their voices to the pursuit of Orpheus, the poet, who roams the world seeking to heal it with his songs.
So, what are the songs in my heart that I keep singing two days after this experience? My heart is singing a song of grief and mourning at the ways of humans who want to keep other humans down and out when there is truly enough for all in the world. This is an age-old song. My heart is singing a song of anger and frustration at the voices of “the Fates” who tell us it will always be this way….we cannot beat this cycle. My heart is singing a song of gratitude that as a culture we are still telling the old stories so we can learn from them! My heart is singing a song of hope as I ponder how the story of Jesus entered the Greco-Roman world of these old stories bringing the possibility of new endings. We sing together each Sunday in worship the songs of hope in Jesus the Christ who unlike dear and earnest, Orpheus, entered the underworld through the love of God, conquered death and released the captives.
We must learn from Orpheus, who tried to take on Hades, all alone and lost out to his self-doubt. We are not alone. We live in the promise of God’s beloved community. My heart is singing a song of poignant joy as I remember that the Spirit of Jesus is alive and roaming the world with all of us who labor together to bring about a better world where poverty is not the enemy of riches, but a place seeded with justice and revolution. My heart is singing as I remember to sing the songs of God’s healing love, compassion, forgiveness and justice!
Blessings and with you on this journey,