The third and title-track of my mini-album is called “love on moth’s wings,” and can be heard at this link:

https://oakwool.bandcamp.com/album/love-on-moths-wings

(As with previous posts, the lyrics are found in the link).

In Week 7 of AI54, we examined various local kinds of devotional music. One example of this was a Ginan entitled “Hu(n) Re Peeaassee.” A ginan is a devotional hymn sung by members of Ismaili Shi’a communities in South Asia. When Professor Asani played a recording of an arrangement of “Hu(n) Ew Peeaassee” in class and showed us a translation of the lyrics, I could not believe how much I was moved by the words. I have long been in love with the mystical aspects of my native Anglo-Catholic Christianity, and to encounter mystical language from a different tradition that, while employing different vocabulary, nevertheless express the longing for unity with Divinity that I feel very strongly was a wonderful experience.

I greatly appreciated the lyrics of “Hu(n) Re Peeaassee,” and wanted to interact with them somehow by creating devotional/mystical music of my own. The result is this song, “love on moth’s wings,” a folk-inflected dream-pop ballad about the surrender of the self and the longing for the truest knowledge of God: Unity through Love. The lyrics of “love on moth’s wings” are perhaps best described as an augmented paraphrase. The verses borrow language directly from the Ginan, and the first line (“I thirst, O Beloved, for a vision of You) is a direct quote from the translation. As Asani points out in Chapter 3 of Ecstasy and Enlightenment, a central facet of this South Asian Ismaili music is the imagery of “spiritual marriage” and the language of the woman-soul (Asani 55-57), and I did my best to preserve this throughout my piece, particularly in the moments when I meditate on humility and self-sacrifice (as the Ginan says, “it is by becoming nothing that one is called a handmaiden”).

I note that in Ginans, just as a general mystical experience is often described, so also is a relationship between the disciple of the Ismaili Imam (the murid) and the Imam himself (Asani 57). I concede that this is downplayed slightly in my own synthesis of the Ginan’s lyrics; considering the choruses I composed to supplement the verses, I think the song has turned out to be an expression of longing for oneness with Divinity more than longing for spiritual marriage to a human religious leader.

I really dug into the animal imagery found in my favorite stanzas of the ginan: the displaced fish, the greedy bee, and most importantly, the moth that gives of itself, diving toward the light in an act of sacrifice. These creatures pop up in the second verse of “love on moth’s wings,” and the moth becomes the enduring, ideal image which I long to emulate for the rest of the song, as I “tumble toward the light” in an act of self-giving sacrifice to attain unity with the Beloved. The last line of the song evokes some more of the romantic/marriage language, at least implicitly: “I want to be yours.”

The first chorus is a product and description of my own contemplative prayer practice, which seeks the silence of unknowing to find the Unity with the Beloved that the ginan describes. The second chorus, while embellishing on the moth imagery present in the ginan, also evokes imagery of my favorite poem by Rumi:

The way of love is not
 a subtle argument.
The door there 
is devastation.
Birds make great sky-circles
 of their freedom.
How do they learn that? 
They fall, and falling,
 they’re given wings.

I connect this falling which produces wings to the moths who sacrifice themselves for the sake of the light and for unity with the beloved in the ginan (“these fluttering broken beings who in honest falling find true wings, and through the door, love”). I really hope you like this song!

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