In the birth song tradition attributed to the Himba people in northern Namibia, a woman who decides to become a mother goes and sits silently under a tree and listens carefully until she hears the song of the child that wishes to come to her. Once she has heard the song, she comes back to her man who will father her child and teaches him that song. When they physically unite to conceive the child, they sing the birth song, inviting the child to come to them.
Once a Himba woman becomes pregnant, she teaches the Birth song to the midwives and the elderly women of the tribe so that when the baby is born, the women can sing the birth song to the child and welcome it into the world. When the child grows, the birth song is sung to the child in every phase, even when he/she falls down or cries or does something wonderful. It’s sung again when the child reaches puberty. It’s even sung when the person commits a crime. The person is made to stand in the village center and then people of the community hold hands and circle around him/her, singing the Birth Song, reminding him/her of their origin, their identity.
http://womenpla.net/these-himba-women-invite-baby-in-their-womb-with-a-birth-song/ These Himba Women Invite Baby in Their Womb With a Birth Song! POSTED BY Aditi Patel Sub Editor, Women Planet
I haven’t been able to confirm that the Birth Song tradition actually is practiced by the Himba people, but wow. Even if it’s made up, isn’t it a beautiful thing? To have a song that guides you from before conception to death? A song your parents and the whole community know? A song that reminds you at every important moment of your life who you are?
A few weeks ago, we heard the story of Jesus’ visit to his hometown of Nazareth. When he went to synagogue, they handed him a scroll from Isaiah and asked him to read.
So, you’re Jesus. You’re home for a visit after a hectic schedule of traveling and teaching. You probably just want to rest…but when you go to synagogue, they ask you to read Scripture. I wonder if on the way up to take the Isaiah scroll, Jesus had a moment of, “Oh, dear. What am I going to read?”
When telling the story a few weeks ago, I was struck that the passage Jesus chose to read came from the song Mary sings to Elizabeth, the Magnificat we call it. Now, I wonder, Was Jesus, in this important moment of naming himself and his new role to his hometown folks, singing his birth song? Did Mary hear this song before she conceived? Did she sing it to Joseph? Did she sing it the night Jesus was born? Did she sing Jesus to sleep with it when he was a toddler? Did she sing it to him that time he stayed back at the temple in Jerusalem and worried her sick? Did she sing it that day as she watched her firstborn child die?
Whether or not Mary’s song was Jesus’ birth song, Mary’s song plays an important role in Scripture. It’s words occur in Psalms and Isaiah. Last week, we heard Hannah sing it when she brought her child, Samuel, to the temple.
What is it about this song that the folks writing, then organizing Scripture found so important that they included it so many times?
When Chuck and I began planning for Advent, we read through all the Scripture texts offered during the season. When we read the Magnificat, Chuck said something like, “Whoa! This isn’t the Christmas we usually hear about! ‘God has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts. God has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly; God has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty.’”
Mary’s song is so rich and so deep we decided to focus on it throughout the season of Advent. Each week, you’ll hear a different musical setting of the Magnificat. Our beloved Chuck and choir can make that happen. Cool, huh?
Jesus’ words later in the Gospel of Luke suggest one way to understand Mary’s song: to look at the world as it is.
There will be signs in the sun, the moon, and the stars, and on Earth distress among nations confused by the roaring of the sea and the waves. People will faint from fear and foreboding of what is coming upon the world… Doesn’t sound too far off the mark does it?
Then he told them a parable: ‘Look at the fig tree and all the trees; as soon as they sprout leaves you can see for yourselves and know that summer is already near.” The call here is to wake up and look at what’s really going on in the world…to, as Walter Burghardt has written, “take a long, loving look at the real.”
What might we see if we take a “long, loving look at the real?” Might we, like Mary, see those who are starving, not from lack of food, but from lack of political will to stop wars and unjust food distribution? If we take a long, loving look at the real, might we see the racism, sexism, and classism that continue to oppress so many and dehumanize us all? If we take a long, loving look at the real, might we see the pride and power that prevent God’s dreams for the world from coming true?
There was great rejoicing this week when three men were convicted of murdering Ahmad Arbery in Brunswick, Georgia. For the justice system to work in so blatant a crime against a young Black man in the deep south is certainly something to rejoice. Historically, that kind of justice has happened too rarely.
But it’s a complicated celebration, isn’t it? Two previous prosecutors chose not to indict the men who eventually were convicted. The prosecutor who won the case was brought down from Atlanta. Without the video of the murder going viral, it’s doubtful the crime would have been pursued at all.
And here’s the thought that won’t leave my mind: he’s still dead. Ahmad is still dead. A Black man was still hunted down on a public street in broad daylight and murdered. His mother and father and all who knew him still grieve.
As we take a long, loving look at the reality of society right now, we see evidence of systemic racism everywhere. Everywhere. Mothers of Black sons still experience terror every time their children leave the house. In too many places, Black lives still don’t matter as much as white lives.
When I mentioned our Advent theme of decentering or upending Christmas to my friend alexandria monque, she told me about a recording Louis Farrakhan made for parents. The quote I’m going to share might be jarring for some of us, but it does invite u us to take a long, loving look at what’s real about Christmas from a perspective other than our own. Here’s the quote:
“Leave the mythical Santa at the North Pole or wherever he is. And don’t you ever again spend money on your children and give the credit to a mythical Caucasian and make your children think that they have to continue to look at White people to get things you give them with your hard sweat and blood. “~(Louis Farrakhan on Instagram)⠀
For all of us who have been born into the way of Jesus, Mary’s song is our birth song. Our birth song invites us to take a long, loving look at what’s real…and not just what’s real from our perspective. Mary’s song, Jesus’ song, Hannah’s song, the Psalmist’s song, the prophet’s song…our birth song calls us to upend the world, to turn it right side up again so that God’s dreams for our world might come true.
So…Will we do what it takes to fulfill God’s dreams for the world? Will we feed the hungry? Will we work to scatter the proud? Will we stand against unjust systems and name the mis-use of power when we see it?
What I’m asking, Church, is: Will we, will we, will we join the revolution?
In the name of our God, who creates us, redeems us, sustains us, and hopes for our wholeness. Amen.
Kimberleigh Buchanan © 2021