The Book of Voices

Biblical Microfictions by Joseph Zitt


(Context: Psalm 81:1)

I am song, and my world is song.
Just as we have dedicated this temple to God,
I have dedicated my life
To song, with song, for song.

This song is a song of God.
This song is a song of God’s mystery.
This song flows
From my mouth,from my throat, from my lungs.

But it is not my song.
This song flows into me from elsewhere, from God,
And emerges as human song,
A song of the people.
I hear their thoughts and I sing them back as song:
Praise song, healing song, a song of life.

Without song, I was nothing.
With song, I am nothing but a conduit,
A channel through which song can rush
As water rushes through the once-dry river beds
When we sing the songs of rain,
The songs of rejuvenation,
The songs of the cycles of joy.

Without song, I had no voice.
All my words without song came as stammers,
As Moses stammered without Aaron to give him speech,
As Moses stammered without Miriam to give him song.

Without song, my words were silenced.
Without song, I shied away from the other Levites.
Without song, I believed that if I had no words,
I had no voice.

Without song, I stood far away from the singers,
Banged the great cymbal,
Watched as the sacrifice flames rose to God.
But my voice was silent,
Without words, without song.

Without words, they thought me stupid, thought me damaged.
Then the Teacher of Song came
To teach us, to sing with us, to listen with us.
Moving among the Levites,
Starting with the most talented,
Ending with me,
She sang a phrase of song
And had each Levite
Sing that phrase of song back with her.

And when she came down to me,
When she came to me to test me with song,
I bowed my head, hid my face behind the great cymbals,
Hid myself from the song, from the Teacher of Song.
She sang a phrase of song at me.
I did not respond.
She sang the phrase of song again.
I tried to whisper, to stammer, “No. Please.”
The other Levites jeered. She summoned them to silence.

Then she sang a different phrase of song,
A beautiful song, a complex song,
A song that repeated without repeating.
Then I felt her touch her fingers
To each side of my bowed head,
To my chest, to my throat, to my lips.

Then she touched her fingers to my closed eyes.
My eyes opened,
And her eyes looked deeply into my own,
And she sang her phrase of song again.
I still could not respond.

Then she sang the phrase once more,
This time without words.
My lips opened to sing,
But in shame, in fear, I still found no song.

And she sang the phrase of song to me,
Over and over,
Sometimes without words,
Sometimes with different words,
Sometimes singing:

“This song can be your song.
This song is your song.
Sing along when you can.
Remain silent when you must.
Sing whatever song emerges
From your heart, from your throat, from your lips.
The song that you sing may not be the same song,
But the song that you sing will be the right song.”

Then she paused,
Then she sang a single note, a simple note,
A note of song that seemed to last forever.

And I opened my mouth and I breathed,
And I opened my voice and I breathed a note,
A tentative note, a timid note,
Not the same note
That the Teacher of Song was singing,
But a note that blended with her song,
Merged with her song, became beautiful.

Then the Teacher of Song sang two notes, repeating,
And I sang two notes as she sang,
Not the same notes,
But notes of song that blended, merged,
Became beautiful.

And she sang three and I sang three,
And she sang five and I sang five,
And she sang eight and I sang eight,
And we flew into melodies,
Long wordless streams of song,
Simple yet complex,
The same yet not the same,
Each person’s notes of song
Crashing into the song of the other,
Pulling against the song of the other,
Yet blending to form something more beautiful
Than either stream of song alone.

Then she fell silent and I fell silent.
And as we breathed in the silence,
In this absence of song, blessed by song,
She began once again to sing,
A simple phrase of song, with simple words:
“What is your name? What is your name? What is your name?”

And I joined her in singing,
“What is your name? What is your name?”
But she touched her finger to my lips,
Pointed to herself, pointed to me, sang,
“My name is Shirah. What is your name?”

And with fear, close to silence,
I sang the words “My name… My name is Asaph…
Asaph… My name is Asaph…
My name is Asaph, son of Berechiah…
My name is Asaph…”

And in shock, in joy, I realized
That I was not stammering,
That my words were clear,
That everyone could understand
The words of my song.

And she sang, “Tell me where you are.”
And she sang, “Tell me what you see.”

And she sang a simple phrase again, without words,
And I sang along with her:
“I am in a room.
I am in a large room with many others.
I am in a large room, full of sound,
Singing here with my brothers, the Levites.
And I am seeing their faces,
And I am hearing their hearts,
And I sense in their breath
Their joys, their fears, their futures.
And I am here with our teacher,
With the Teacher of Song,
And I can hear her voice,
Can feel her love,
Can taste her presence, the presence of her song,
As a mist in the air, as eternal honey
on my tongue, in my throat, throughout my being.
And the song brings me joy,
And the song brings me life,
And the song is life,
And my life is nothing but song.
Sing the Lord a new song!”

And I sang that again, repeating but not repeating,
“Sing the Lord a new song!”
And I realized that the Teacher of Song had stopped singing,
That the Teacher of Song was listening to my song.

Then the Teacher of Song began to sing again:
“Listen! Sing! Listen! Sing!”
And she moved among the Levites,
Touching her fingers to their hearts, to their lips.
And each began to sing with me,
“Sing the Lord a new song!”
Not the same notes that I sang,
Not our usual trivial unison,
But a complicated tapestry of sound,
Each person singing his own note,
Each person singing the right note,
Each person singing a note
Made richer, made right by
The notes that each other person sang.

Then the Teacher of Song fell silent,
And I fell silent,
And one by one the Levites fell silent.
And the silence was rich, was warm,
Was subtle, was strong as the taste in the mouth
After one has swallowed fine wine.

And the Levites turned to me,
And I tried to thank them,
Tried to speak

But my words failed me without song,
And I stammered and could not speak,
Spitting out broken pieces of words
Like seeds, like shattered teeth.

And I bowed my head,
And I listened for the inevitable laughter

But the silence held us
As we held the silence,
As I cursed my self
For my moment of song, of beauty,
Now lost in this desert of speech.

Then I heard a shout from afar,
A note, a word, sung by an unknown Levite,
A voice calling, “Sing! Sing!”
Once, again,
Then another joined,
Then two, three, five, eight,
Uncountable voices,
All singing different notes together,
All calling out, “Sing! Sing!”

And I opened my mouth,
And words flowed in song,
From me, through me, around me,
As I heard my song proclaim:

“Sing joyously to God, our strength,
Raise a shout for the God of Jacob.
Take up the song,
Sound the timbrel,
The melodious lyre and harp…”

And all those around me
Sang to me,
Sang around me,
Sang with me,
Sang the word “Sing!”
Or sang my song,
No two of us singing the same thing,
But all the notes
Blending, merging,
Becoming beautiful.

I looked for the Teacher of Song,
But she was gone,
And our song carried us along without her,
As it has carried us since that day,
As it carries us now,
Now that time has passed and I am grown,
Now that I am married and have children who sing,
Now that I am old and sit in the temple where I sing

As I still play the great cymbals,
As I teach others to play the great cymbals,
As I teach those who believe that they cannot sing
That they should begin by playing the cymbals,
That they should listen to the song around them,
Listen to the song within themselves,
Let themselves believe the song,
Become the song,
Be the song

And that someday,
If only on the day that they leave this world,
The song will come for them,
The song will come to them,
The song will come
To join with them, to envelop them,
To join them with the souls of all that live,
Or to join them with souls of all who no longer live,

And the first, the last, the best thing
That they will come to understand
Is that they are song,
Life is song,
God is song,

And the song goes on forever,
Around us, within us, among us,
Carried between us
In the motions of the wind, the water, the earth,
Passed in the words, the breath, the touch
That moves between each person and the next,
Carried in the scent of the incense,
In the fires of sacrifice,
In the prayers of each person to God,
In the blessings that God returns.

As the song is sung, pronounced,
Captured, frozen, melted, burned,
Witnessed, dreamed, imagined, believed,

While even one of us is living, is singing,
The song will be the world.
The song will extend the world.
The song will sustain the world.

We know that the song

Will never end.

(Next: Zedekiah.)


November 10, 2007 - Posted by | Uncategorized

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