Take Nothing for the Journey
GIA Publications, Inc., 2019
$12.95 MP3 / $16.95 CD
(CD-1079 / www.giamusic.com)
Review by William Hugo, OFM Cap.
David Haas has been on a journey. Occasionally, its Franciscan footprints are only visible when looking back. David’s latest collection of liturgical music documents the many manifestations of his journey. Sometimes, it’s the people to whom individual songs are dedicated; at other times, the people who inspired a piece. These people go back to his childhood or reveal recent encounters. They are friends and colleagues in the liturgical-music world. Many are lay people who have inspired along the way. Some led the journey though church leadership, such as Bishop Kenneth Untener of Saginaw. Others represent contemporary Franciscan thinkers who occasion many of David’s lyrics. They include Richard Rohr, OFM, Dan Horan, OFM, Thea Bowman, FSPA, and Michael Crosby, OFM Cap.
These witnesses to faith come from nearby Minnesota and faraway Australia. Their diversity is represented in African-American assemblies, women sharing Franciscan congregational living, and the inclusiveness of the Special Olympics. The melodies frequently reflect the optimism we have come to expect from a David Haas hymn. Some fuse his reliable style with that of an African-American spiritual, a Scottish march, an Appalachian folk song, a shanty, or even a melody by Beethoven.
Franciscans who expect to find within this collection the verbatim writings of Francis or Clare of Assisi put to music will be disappointed. This is not David’s goal. Instead, he strives to take various Franciscan inspirations and explore them through modern experience wedded to poetry and music. The notable exceptions are Haas’s Perfect Charity, which remains quite faithful to Francis’s Prayer before the Crucifix, and All Praise to You, Most High, which explores the Canticle of the Creatures. (Perhaps someday David will include a verse celebrating the reconciliation that is so important to that original poem.) However, even in these cases, Francis’s texts enjoy modern elaboration.
David Haas is not a Franciscan of any official type. However, he confesses many Francsican influences in his life and the appeal of the Franciscan vision. In this, he is not unlike Pope Francis who finds himself in a similar situation. Thus, he shows the influence of popular Franciscanism which calls for us to preach without words and to become instruments of God’s peace, acknowledging that Francis is the inspiration for these texts, not their author. However, he also shows an unusual awareness of Franciscan themes less known to the general public. Pax et bonum, and the “operation” of the Holy Spirit are examples. His agile Franciscan vision emerges from modern people’s lives in conversation with the Franciscan past.
The opening track sets the theme for the entire album. Take Nothing for the Journey begins by recalling any one of the Gospel commissioning texts (Take neither silver nor gold, walking stick nor belt) that were so popular in Francis’s day and found their way into his Earlier and Later Rule. The hymn calls listeners to take nothing but themselves along the journey directed by God. The same abandonment is visible in Lord, Take Me, the prayer of Mychal Judge, OFM, who was the first certified fatality of the 9/11 attacks.
The origin of the journey is found in God’s love itself. Thus, David intuits what the Franciscan intellectual tradition has been about from the beginning. God’s love is more powerful than our sin. Our salvation begins with God’s desire for us, not the need to make reparation for our sin. God saves us, by sharing his divine life of love through our relationship with Christ. Love Above All proclaims the primacy of God’s love. I Belong represents the human experience of that love. One cannot help but think of the leper encountering Francis during his conversion: the leper acknowledged by Francis, and Francis changed by the leper. Here, David unites his own journey to that of Francis and invites us down the same path.
There Is No Fear in Love marks that visible change in Francis…and in us if we allow God’s love to overpower us. We Become What We Love might make us think of that Franciscan-like prayer recited during the preparation of the eucharistic gifts: “…may we come to share in the divinity of Christ who humbled himself to share in our humanity.” Eager We Are to Love displays the change within all who are open to the God who first loved them, visible in the song’s extraordinary syncopation.
This intense response to God’s love is expressed in My God and My All, an exploration of the Franciscan motto that goes back to the early days of David’s Franciscan journey in 1981. It is expressed in the early manifestation of Christ in The Babe of Bethlehem (I hope someday, David will include Franciscan hymns celebrating Christ’s passion and eucharistic presence—the other premier Franciscan manifestations of the Poor and Humble Christ.) and Pax et Bonum, an exploration in seven languages of Christ’s mission through this Franciscan greeting.
David is a rare popular Franciscan aficionado who understands that the Holy Spirit is at the root of all this activity within God and among us. He unusually picks up on the Franciscan “holy operation” of the Spirit brought to light in recent decades by the famous Dutch Capuchin Optatus van Asseldonk. Come, Holy Spiritsolicits the Christian creativity that comes through her inspiration. There’s a Sweet Spirit celebrates her influence using African-American language and the spiritual genre. Those sentiments and that musical fusion find a final testament in I Want to Choose Life, inspired by the heroic example of Franciscan sister Thea Bowman, FSPA, another modern influence on David’s Franciscan vision.
David ends his musical journey with Go Calmly in Peace, a text by St. Clare; a round whose music mimics the tranquility of joy that recognizes you have done what you were supposed to do and are where you are supposed to be. This concluding Franciscan charism is linked one more time to the love of a maternal creator and a lifetime under the inspiration of the Spirit.
I leave a critical review of David’s music to those more able to do so. However, as one trained in Franciscan texts, I find provoking the subtle inclusion of so many Franciscan themes that are uncovered in modern Franciscan witness and shaped by David’s own musical style. For sure, the renaissance of Franciscan studies over more than a century has been an important anchor for Franciscans of every stripe, including popular enthusiasts. However, it is equally important to keep that tradition alive through our continual reflection on everyday life and outstanding figures around us. That is the origin of David’s Franciscan journey shared with his companions on the road.
William Hugo, OFM Cap.
The Solanus Casey Center, Detroit, Michigan
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