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Justice

Possibly Stupid But Totally Worth It

May 30, 2019 by

Parque Chicaque in Colombia

I love this shot: three different elements of nature stacked up like Neapolitan ice-cream: living, breathing flora, naked stone cliffs, and this saturated space of sky. I love the memory that goes with it even more. This was the first panorama of the natural world I’d seen in a whole three months (which is saying a lot for someone who grew up in the mountains of southwest Pennsylvania). During Easter, a friend and I took advantage of our week off from classes to head out of the city and deep into nature for the first time since we moved to Colombia in January.

Parque Chicaque isn’t really that far, and if you’re on the road by 5:00 or so you can beat the traffic which chokes the city to a claustrophobic crawl by 6:15 in the morning. Bogotá goes on and on in this endless way that a city of nine million people can, but then suddenly you’re outside of it and the wet air of Los Cordilleros settles over you and into you, clean and sharp, and your lungs remember what they’ve been missing all this time.

We spent two days out there, reveling in novelties such as hiking and quiet and the way the jungle biome breathes and grows and lives and does not need you in order to do so. Novelties such as sitting outside after dark (safe!) and being part of the uninterrupted night (silence, stars). It’s at least a mile’s hike down from the park entrance to the camping grounds and hostel below, a trek which involves navigating near-vertical trails of tangled jungle vegetation on your feet or your seat or however it works out. We heaved our guitar the whole darn way – possibly stupid but totally worth it.

When placed before a silence so peaceful, violence no longer has the last say, and Colombia, made of so much more than drug traffic and sniper fire, seems to pull itself to its full height and demand to be redefined.

We pulled it out that evening on the hostel veranda before heading to our cabin room for the night. Our motives were only selfish: we were hungry for music, hungry to hear it where it could resound. Song doesn’t belong to the city; it tends to shrivel and dissipate when launched against the cold angles and cement. It’s a lone and foreign energy amidst a mandatory dissonance. The music of two voices and a guitar activates sound waves which the city either doesn’t hear or doesn’t welcome. Traveling out with this subversive energy, it breaks against an environment at once hungry for it and skeptical of it.

But song finds its welcome in a place like Chicaque, where life spills and blooms and dominates, unchecked.

That evening as we lay strewn in the hammocks out on the veranda, we let the sun blacken the tree line and exit before we started to sing. There were other campers in the vicinity, leaning on the railing, digesting their dinners, watching the night wash out the sky to muted colors.

Like I said, we were singing selfish. I was, at least. It was like a pressure release valve: In a place like Chicaque, the human heart unfolds to its full stature and asks to be voiced. The uncluttered airwaves are receptive; there is space in which to create. Each combination of melody and harmony, melded by its corresponding chord, lifted up and away from the veranda like soap bubbles from a child’s wand, effervescent like that, yet commanding as well.

We sang everything that three months in Colombia had written on our hearts. We sang for beautiful things: the strength of the human spirit, for hospitality and hearts that never succumb to hate. We sang for the broken things: sixty years of civil war and the open wounds that continue to bleed, without reparation.

Far from the city, the bizarre, the unjust, and the tragic lose their normalcy and may be condemned for what they are. At the same time, these aspects lose their tyrannical quality. When placed before a silence so peaceful, violence no longer has the last say, and Colombia, made of so much more than drug traffic and sniper fire, seems to pull itself to its full height and demand to be redefined.

We both felt it somewhere within the same verse: these songs offered far more than a mere personal catharsis. They needed to be sung. We looked at the people around us, still and quiet. Just a smattering of strangers, each heart alone with itself, but each inscribed with a story. Every Colombian has a story that has, at some point, bled. Six decades of armed conflict marks a society, marks generations, marks every individual member. I, who know nothing of violence and murder, willed every song upward and outward, to encompass these people, their memories and their country with the blessing that these words voiced:

My peace I give unto you,
It’s a peace that the world cannot give
It’s a peace that the world cannot understand
Peace to live, Peace to know…

Let this land so troublesome be united
Let this land of heartache rejoice…
We can build this land of peace, build this land of hope
Hold on for today, hold on for tomorrow,
Hold on forever…


Listen to recordings of these three songs.


Peace be unto you from the watching angels
Ye watching angels from on high
Peace from the King, the ruler over all kings
The Holy One – blessed be He…

We’ve both known these songs – the second one written for the Troubles in Ireland – since childhood, but that evening, launched against the Colombian night sky, they assumed new power and relevance. They could have been written for this country, for this conflict, for the sixty years of civil war and the fragile peace accords which threaten to snap just three years after their confirmation. They seemed to encompass the thousands of Venezuelan refugees begging each day on the city busses, the resumed guerilla violence in the south and the clashes along the Eastern border.

It was wholesome and right – and no longer just selfish.

We remained strangers to the other campers. At some point we shut up and people eventually drifted off to their cabins or tents or campfires. But I know that the energy released in those words, carried by that music, counts for something.

We all head back to the city after a retreat. The sun comes up and the headlines remain grim. Out on the streets, people still clutch their valuables and watch their backs. But the energy released in those words and in that music is out there, still traveling outward, or perhaps back around, to reach us now in the city – to affect or uplift some human heart just when it needs it most.


 

Enjoy recordings of these Bruderhof songs:

“My Peace I Give Unto You,” words from John 14:27, music by Keith Routledge, arranged by Arnold Meier, and sung by school kids at Darvell, a Bruderhof in England:
“Land of Peace,” also recorded at Darvell. Words by Emma Cunningham and music by Martin Rimes:
This version of “Peace Be Unto You” was recorded in an empty grain silo at Fox Hill. Lyrics are a Hebrew blessing, music by I. and S.E. Goldfarb:

 

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About the author

Shannon

Shannon McPherson

Shannon is a literature student at the Universidad de los Andes in Bogotá, Colombia.

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