The Common Good
May-June 1998

Bending With the Breeze

by David Whettstone | May-June 1998

Prayers for the journey.

Prayer offers many things: peace, joy, centering, clarity, and the comfort of God’s presence and companionship. An exercise both natural and of deliberate exertion, we never know what we might find on our way. But we need not pray alone or turn down directions or inspiration for our journey.

Prayers From the Earth

, an audiotape by Rev. Amitiyah Elayne Hyman, is a collection of prayers well-stocked and overflowing for our sojourn—our time of prayer. While delicately crafted, the tape is nevertheless robust and invigorating. The listener will find that God provides us with everything that is needed, through creation, history, cycles of life, and other people.

Throughout Prayers From the Earth, Hyman offers the wisdom gained through 17 years of pastoring in the Washington, D.C. area. This tape represents an innovative application of liturgy, sermon, song, poetics, and improvisational spirit. Hyman, of Woodland Indian and West African heritage, employs words and phrases that should reach members of various Christian traditions and those deeply concerned with the Earth, the legacy of our ancestors, justice, and spirituality.

In "Creation Prayer," thanksgiving is returned to God as we realize in prayer and thought our communion with nature, creatures, and persons. Cleverly, Hyman remembers all of Earth’s inhabitants as we pray: "Tree people, Plant people, Rock people, Insect people, Winged people, Finned people, Four-legged people, and Two-legged people. Red, black, yellow, and white people." Such reverence and consideration is supported by nature and God’s power displayed through the elements. With this comes gratitude and adulation as we seek the Great Spirit—"holy, high, and lifted up."

"Independence Day" adroitly starts with references conjured by Irving Berlin’s "America." Lush, pristine natural geography gives way to the advent of industrialization. Parallel to this process, we are led to recognize groups of historical immigrants—the slave as well as the indentured servant—and indigenous peoples. Though exploited, oppressed, romanticized, and disenfranchised, a wonderful genealogy is offered by the rhythmic naming of several Native American tribes. God is gently implored to "rewrite our story [to free us] from the errors of our past in deference to land and ‘humanhood.’"

Here, something as simple as the "lesson of the feather" gives us profound instruction for "bending with the breeze, soaring with the wind of spirit."

Hyman’s voice is ripe with the convergence of African-American aesthetic. One can hear the echoes of Maya Angelou, Gwendolyn Brooks, Paul Lawrence Dunbar, James Weldon Johnson, and others. Historical figures are not forgotten in the direct references of Nzinga, Frederick Douglass, Ida B. Wells; of Malcolm and Martin; and of contemporary Queen Latifah.

As with any journey, the aesthetics of the trip will influence which paths we choose. The efforts of Bernice Johnson Reagon (of Sweet Honey in the Rock) and Toshi Reagon, an accomplished and thoughtful instrumentalist, are arresting. The listener will undoubtedly notice and appreciate their great skills and spirit. Vocalizations; virtuosity, through guitar, bass, and percussive instruments; and a cappella harmonies place us in worlds of "silence" and melodious beauty.

DAVID WHETTSTONE, a free-lance religion writer, works as outreach director at the Campaign for New Community in Washington, D.C.

Prayers From the Earth. Amitiyah Elayne Hyman. Inspire, 1997.

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