Oh glorious morning! An unexpected new single from mewithoutYou! They have been one of my favorite bands from the last decade because of their unique sound and imagery that’s woven throughout their material. The band has changed over the years (and people have strong opinions about that) and will undoubtedly have some hesitation about this new iteration, but I  love it. The tone is closer to a balance of Catch for Me the Foxes and Brother, Sister, to me. And, as expected, FULL of spiritual depth.

I’m going to explain a few of the references and then give my take on what I think the overall meaning could be.

“Holy to the LORD on the bells of horses” (title and lyric)

This is drawn from Zechariah 14:20-21, which dates to 520-518BCE:

On that day, “Holy to the LORD” will be inscribed on the bells of the horses, and the pots in the LORD ’s house will be holy like the bowls before the altar. Every pot in Jerusalem and in Judah will be holy to the Lord of heavenly forces.

This section of Zechariah is looking forward to a time when God will restore the Hebrew people and provide Justice for their oppression. It is written for a community in exile to inspire hope in God’s coming deliverance and restoration. The phrase “Holy to the LORD” being applied to the bells of horses and to cooking pots symbolizes that the entire society will be purified (like the ritual bowls at the altar in the Temple).

“Out beyond ideas of right and wrong is a field…”

This quote is from Rumi, a Persian poet and leader within Sufism, which is a more mystical tradition of Islam. Aaron Weiss (vocals and guitar) and Michael Weiss (guitar, keyboard, vocals) were raised in a Sufi household and have quoted Rumi in other songs (“The Cure for Pain” and “Seven Sisters”).

Final Verse

This verse describes an encounter with a person named Yusef who maintains the exclusivity of his religion.

In case your plan falls through to mispronounce my name,

[static between me and that Salafi, Yusef]

to curse You-Don’t-Know-Who and bow before the same

[so was the scene at al-Aqsa,]

I’ll meet you there.

[I have to admit, I loved the cut of his pant legs!]

another lovely afternoon for Sūrat al-Kāfirūn

Salafi is a term for a branch of Islam that advocates for a return to the earliest interpretations and application of the Qur’an. This is largely seen as a regressive stance and a reaction to more contemporary practice of the faith.

You-Don’t-Know-Who is an honorific that could either refer to YHWH/Allah or the Prophet Muhammad. The practice of avoiding a personal name has a long cultural tradition in Judaism and Islam, which is used here with the twist that the person does not really know of whom he refers. Additionally, that this person is cursing and worshiping simultaneously underscores the religious hypocrisy.

al-Aqsa

This is the name of the mosque that is built in the Old City of Jerusalem, Israel, which is venerated in Islam, Judaism, and Christianity.

Sūrat al-Kāfirūn

This is the title of the 109th surah of the Qur’an, popularly known as “The Unbelievers” and is a commandment not to compromise in matters of religion (some contemporary interpretation do view this text as an opening for religious tolerance and co-existence, however).

Say: O unbelievers! I do not worship that which you worship, nor do you worship that which I worship. I shall never worship that which you worship, nor will you ever worship that which I worship. You have your religion, and I have mine.

English translation by Muhammad Farooq-i-Azam Malik

Meaning (for me, anyway)

The message of the song is to find meaning and freedom in faith and spirituality rather than being preoccupied with right and wrong behaviors which each religion will determine themselves (especially in reference to a cultural context far removed from today). The band’s prior work has often blurred the boundaries between Christianity, Islam, and Judaism,  and is especially attentive to their mystical traditions. This motif continues in the chorus and presents some new imagery:

‘Holy to the LORD’ on the bells of horses

Safely on the shore, we sank like stones

to the bottom of a made up ocean.

This chorus posits that mysticism is necessary for a vibrant faith. If all has been restored by God (when Holy to the LORD is inscribed on bells and pots), we inhabit a paradoxical location in which we are both safe on the shore yet inventing the opposite situation that would betray our true reality. The line “so many ways to lose so many faiths” conveys the potential for all religions to fall into this trap of exchanging their life-enriching qualities for an inescapable ocean of fundamentalism and exclusivity. When this is done in the name of God, we prove that we do not know whom we speak of.

What do you think? This whole site is in experiment mode right now so I am looking for feedback. Use the comment area to let me know if you like this type of content or how to improve it- comments won’t post so only I will see what you have to say. Thanks! -michael

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