Monday, November 24, 2008

"palpable holiness"

Amy Lyons' phrase--

"palpable holiness"

--really captured it for me.

Some call it the "manifest presence" of God,
as opposed to his omnipresence.

Most obviously and definitively in the incarnation of Jesus in a tangible, touchable, "palpable" body,

it seems that God is so lavishly in love with us that he seems to "show up" in a special way in certain seasons, events, people and places. A God who never incarnates in a sham.

The God who is everywhere at all times

seems to visit and inhabit and localize himself in concrete places and specific times..

Recall any moments when for you, "a palpable holiness inhabited the room":

most would mentions intense and intimate times of prayer or healing...often in a corporate worship setting...

...often through a song.

That of course leaves room for individual taste in music style; I am rarely moved by a Gaithre sing; even though my fellow worshipper in the next room is qlmost raptured.

In an insightful article about Frank Zappa's classic concept album, "Joe's Garage," currently being enacted as a dramatic interpretation at Open Fist Theatre in Santa Monica, writer Amy Lyons nailed it for me.

I know...Zappa was not known for being a Christian.

In fact, this album was reviwed in Rolling Stone under the title "Mensch with a Dirty Mind."

But there are times that Zappa's brilliance, complexity and prophetic insight converge; and such is a holy moment.

Just as Zappa's vocal songs from this era are often dirty-minded and provocative;
his instrumentals could often be open-hearted and evocative.

To me, "Watermelon in Easter Hay" ...hey, "Easter," maybe that was his way of referencing that Christ's resurrection evokes longing, aching...and inevitably the only ultimate word for this "beyond words" experience is prayer.

Joyful longing; as C.S. Lewis called it, "Sehnsucht":

"WHAT MORE, you may ask, do we want? ... We do not want merely to see beauty, though, God knows, even that is bounty enough. We want something else which can hardly be put into words--to be united with the beauty we see, to pass into it, to receive it into ourselves, to bathe in it, to become part of it. ("The Weight of Glory")

But thank God for Amy Lyons who called it what it is in
"Record Collector News," November-December 2008, p. 10.

"Joe's Garage" worked on a number of levels, but at heart it was about Joe, a musician who lives in a time and place where musical expression...even music...becomes illegal. So by the third disc, he finds himself in prison, sans guitar...and can only dream imagine/long/pray) the notes of a guitar solo:

"Watermelon in Easter Hay".

It is stunning; apocalyptic even:

"If the surface of this opera is cluttered with cheap gags and musical mishmash, its soul is located in profound existential sorrow. The guitar solos that Zappa plays in Joe's imagination burn with a desolate, devastating beauty. Flaws and all, Joe's Garage is Frank Zappa's Apocalypse Now." (Rolling Stone)

Ironically, Zappa might have more easily embraced Christ if Christ-ians had "taken the swagger out" and prayed and lived more honestly in what John Piper calls "broken-hearted joy."

I have heard several live versions of "Easter Hay" over the years, by Zappa and others, but none work for me to the degree that the original studio recording does. Lyons notes that Zappa (who died in 1993) apparently asked his wife to

"never let anyone else play" this desolate, devastating beauty of a song.

I am assuming he knew it carried an anointing, if you will; a "palpbale holiness."


"Though the live band that cranks out the tunes throughout 'Joe's Garage,' is full of top-notch musicians, the moment we hear Zappa playing Zappa, a palpable holiness inhabits the room."

For some, that religious language is due to the "worship" of a venerated "guitar god" eerily playing from beyond the grave.

But religious language is the only language for this wordless prayer.

Finally, several versions of this song have appeared on YouTube.. of course I was most thrilled to find the original (here)

or at, an amazing resource. Here it is (listen to the audio at upper right; the video version also there is a differently tempo-ed and live version..without the ache of the studio version):

Frank Zappa – Watermelon In Easter Hay – Listen free at

The piece is introduced (and concluded) by the whispered voice of Zappa, playing the narrating role of The Central Scrutinizer. He of course represents and incarnates The System...any system/machine/industry that tries to censor freedom of expression/music/prayer. A headsup that the intro includes an unplanned and throwaway F-word, but it soon recovers...and the mood, the notes,the longing, the prayer, the "palplable holiness" enters and inhabits the room.

Dream on, Joe.
Forgive Frank, Father...he didn't know what he was playing/praying..
or did he?

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