Or Olam: the light ahead and within

Seeking pieces of liturgy and other resources for uplift, as we try to move from the depths of Av to the new year, I’ve found myself returning again and again to “Eternal Light” — based on a line from the high holiday prayers — as composed by Norma Brooks and recorded by “Psalm Full of Soul” with guest artists The Blind Boys of Alabama (recording below).

Or Olam — Eternal Light

“Infinite light is preserved in life’s treasure-house; ‘Lights from darkness’ said God — it was so.” — from the piyyut “Or Olam

“And the light of the moon shall become like the light of the sun, and the light of the sun shall become sevenfold, like the light of the seven days, when the LORD binds up His people’s wounds and heals the injuries it has suffered.” — Isaiah 30:26

These lines, from an ancient liturgical poem by Yose ben Yose (4th-5th Centuries CE) are added to the Yotzeir Or blessing on the High Holy Days. They refer to a Talmudic legend (Chagigah 12a) that the brilliant primordial light of Creation, too powerful for mortal eyes, was hidden away by God, and is preserved for the righteous in the world-to-come.

— liturgical verse and commentary from Mishkan Hanefesh for Rosh Hashanah (CCAR, 2015)

Each of us is a repository of life. We are where life is stored, and this eternal light rests inside each of us, waiting for us to manifest it with our actions. When we act justly, we bring this light into the world, answering God’s dictum, “Lights from the darkness!” When we help another, we bring the “it was so” into the present, an ongoing creation of light in darkness (R David Kominsky, b. 1971)

— commentary from Mishkan Hanefesh continued

The song, “Eternal Light,” is based on “Or Olam” and its commentary, as well as on Gen 1:3-5 and Isaiah 30:36 and 45:7. The same line appears in Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur liturgies (see p.178 in Mishkan Hanefesh for Yom Kippur, e.g.) Video here, with lyrics, is shared with kind permission of Norma Brooks, composer. Full credits below.

For more musical inspiration, including some pieces for the high holidays, check out Norma Brooks’ earlier album, Bountiful Light, created with the help of musicians and choir members from DC and beyond.

Image description: Video is basically one static pair of images overlaid throughout with the song lyrics. Image 1 is a photo of the eight performers at recording session: Blind Boys of Alabama with “Psalm Full of Soul,” that is, Vanessa R. Williams, Vince Evans, and Norma Brooks. Image 2 is the album cover showing Psalm Full of Soul logo and a picture of Vanessa, Vince, an Norma laughing together. Static text: “Psalm Full of Soul ‘Eternal Light.’ Composer: Norma Brooks. Vocal Soloist: Vanessa R. Williams. Featuring guest artists The Blind Boys of Alabama.” On top of the static graphic, lyrics appear in a text box as song progresses. (Lyrics can also be found below.)


“Eternal Light” lyrics (Norma Brooks)

Eternal, eternal light
Source of life, source of life
Light of creation, God’s living treasure
O holy light, God’s holy light

Light from darkness
Light from darkness
God spoke, and it was so
Light from darkness
Light from darkness
Creator of heaven and earth

Eternal, eternal light
Source of life, source of life
Light of creation, God’s living treasure
O holy light, O holy light

O holy light, eternal light
O holy light, eternal light

When the light of the moon
Shall be as the light of the sun
And the light of the sun
Shall be sevenfold
As the light of the seven days,
Seven days of the week
Oh, in the future
There will be a more perfect light
The light resides
Within Each one of us,
Just waiting for us
Just waiting for us
To act justly, to act with purity,
Clarity and joy

The ongoing creation
Of light from darkness
O holy light, O holy light
Eternal light, O holy light

Eternal, eternal light
Source of life, source of life
Light of creation, God’s living treasure
O holy light, God’s holy light

BACK

Credits for “Eternal Light”
Guest Artists: The Blind Boys of Alabama (Jimmy Carter, Ben Moore, Joey Williams, Paul Beasley)
Vocal Soloist: Vanessa R. Williams
Keyboards: Vince Evans
Guitar: Alvin White
Bass: Bryan Fox
Drums: J.C. Jefferson
Choir: Rhonda Burnett Chapman, Byron Nichols, Michael White, Vanessa R. Williams
“Psalm Full of Soul” (c) 2008

RETURN

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vspatz

Virginia blogs on general stuff a vspatz.net and more Jewish topics at "A Song Every Day. Manages WeLuvBooks.org. CommunitythruCovid.com is on hiatus.

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