remember the land

Posted by on Jan 26, 2013

In May 2011 I was invited to help plan and lead worship at a global ecumenical conference on mining, organized by KAIROS Canada. They have put together a powerful video with excerpts from the various speakers, interspersed with the refrain of a song that I wrote for the conference. You can watch or download the video here. This theme song is drawn from Leviticus 26 – a text that makes a vivid (even shocking) connection between human obedience to God’s ways (commandments, statutes, ordinances) and the health of the land. When we sing the refrain of the song (“I will remember the land”), we are singing the words that God speaks in Lev 26:42. The broader context of those words is this: the commandments in the preceding chapter (Lev 25) are all about how to deal with land/property (“sabbatical” year of rest for the land, “jubilee” year of re-distribution of land, issues of debt, servanthood, redemption of servants, etc.). Lev 26 then carries on with a description of ecological health that is described as resulting from obedience to God’s commandments (Lev 26:3-13), followed by a vision of ecological destruction resulting from disobedience (26:14-33). One way or another – whether humans implement it appropriately or not – “the land shall enjoy its sabbath” (26:33-39). And then the text describes the possibility of changed human attitudes and behaviour: “But if they confess their iniquity and the iniquity of their ancestors… if then their uncircumcised heart is humbled and they make amends for their iniquity, then will I remember my covenant with Jacob; I will remember also my covenant with Isaac and also my covenant with Abraham, and I WILL REMEMBER THE LAND.” (Lev 26:40-42, emphasis added). I thought it was particularly striking to put these words of Yahweh – “I will remember the land” – to a traditional Andean Cueca rhythm and chord structure… a land that has a long history of mining and exploitation not just of mineral resources but of the people who have lived there and still live there. (I spent 4 formative years, age 12-16, living in Cochabamba, Bolivia, in the heart of the Andes mountains.) For us to sing these words together, to an Andean rhythm, in the context of a global ecumenical conference on the impacts of mining, struck me as a powerful thing. During the days of the conference I circulated around, talking to as many people as I could, asking them how we would sing these words “I will remember the land” – in their own native language. These conversations inevitably resulted in fascinating debates and conversations about what exactly the words should be, as each language and culture has its own way of articulating the nuances of these things. Which word – of the multiple options that are possible in each of our tongues – should be used to say “remember”…? To...

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