While in London I spent a mind-blowing day at the British Museum. Most of the aforementioned mind-blowing occurred while encountering artifacts like this one: an ancient Assyrian relief sculpture depicting Israelite captives playing their harps nearby a grove of trees. (Click to enlarge.)
Viewing this image both awed me and broke my heart. I remembered Psalm 137:
By the rivers of Babylon— there we sat down and there we wept when we remembered Zion.
On the willows there we hung up our harps.
For there our captors asked us for songs, and our tormentors asked for mirth, saying, “Sing us one of the songs of Zion!”
How could we sing the Lord’s song in a foreign land? (NRSV)
When I first viewed this piece of art last week, I was impressed by how the faith expressed in the Hebrew scriptures was grounded in concrete, earthy experiences - many of which were tragic. Here is a portrayal of Israelite musicians: conquered, captive and marginalized as 'the other'. I could only gaze in sadness and wonder as the real, lived experience behind this artifact (and the psalm) leapt forward, demanding my attention. Today, as I think back to my afternoon in the museum, I wonder about the real, lived experiences of the 'captives' in Western societies. I chose to emigrate to Holland; many immigrants leave their homeland against their will. In what ways are they required to sing their songs in order to 'entertain' the powerful majority? In what ways do we use others to satiate our own 'need' for mirth? By refusing to take seriously those who are different, how do we impoverish our own souls?