"La Bamba is a classic example of the son jarocho musical style, which originated in the Mexican state of Veracruz and combines Spanish, indigenous, and African musical elements. The song is typically played on one or two Arpa jarochas (harps) along with guitar relatives the jarana jarocha and the requinto jarocho. Lyrics to the song vary greatly, as performers often improvise verses while performing. However, versions such as those by musical groups Mariachi Vargas de Tecalitlan and Los Pregoneros del Puerto have survived because of the artists' popularity. The traditional aspect of "La Bamba" lies in the tune, which remains almost the same through most versions. The name of the dance, which has no direct English translation, is presumably connected with the Spanish verb "bambolear", meaning "to sway," "to shake" or "to wobble." Or the name may perhaps be derived from the Kimbundu word "mbamba" meaning "master" as in someone who does something adeptly or skillfully. A traditional huapango song, "La Bamba" is often played during weddings in Veracruz, where the bride and groom perform the accompanying dance. Today this wedding tradition is observed less often than in the past, but the dance is still popular, perhaps through the popularity of ballet folklórico. The dance is performed displaying the newly wed couple's unity through the performance of complicated, delicate steps in unison as well as through creation of a bow from a listón, a long red ribbon, using only their feet. The "arriba" (literally "up") part of the song suggests the nature of the dance, in which the footwork, called "zapateado", is done faster and faster as the music tempo accelerates. A repeated lyric is "Yo no soy marinero, soy capitán", meaning "I am not a sailor, I am the captain"; Veracruz is a maritime locale." (Wikipedia)
God and La Bamba
Singing and Belly Laughing as Ways of Participating in God's Life
Suggestion: When we enjoy La Bamba as performed by La Marisoul and other musicians in the video, we may find ourselves re-imagining the world as connected through music. At least we feel a kind of hope that makes us laugh. And when we feel this hope, we intuively awaken to what Elaine Padilla calls "the God who belly laughs." This is not the God of sterile conceptualities that reduce God to an idea in the head, or the puritanical ethos that reduces God to a moral judge. This is the God who loves life, who laughs, yearns, who suffers with all who suffer, and who is sometimes, to quote Whitehead, "a little oblivious to morals." This is the God of La Bamba, the God who belly laughs.
Awakening to a God who Belly Laughs
with gratitude to Elaine Padilla
When I first heard La Bamba as sung by Playing for Change, I felt a kind of hope. I thought of a line from the ethnomusicologist Barry Shank in his book The Political Force of Musical Beauty. He writes that many songs we love give us "a sense of the world just beyond what already is." We imagine a world "more intensely responsive" that the world we know and therefore "more satisfying." We experience "the way things could be" and "the way things should be." That's what I felt when I heard La Bamba. Granted, there's a lot of immediate joy in the song as performed above. If the song is eschatological, it is a realized eschatology. It partakes of the very intensity and hope to which it points. And it is hopeful. It re-imagines a world connected through music.
I also thought of Elain Padilla's Divine Enjoyment: A Theology of Passion and Exuberance. She presents a vision of a liberating God who belly laughs and invites us to laugh as well. To dance together and sing for joy, with passion that honors all 'others.'
I read her book on Kindle; my apologies in advance that in the quotations below I do not provide page numbers. I encourage you to read it as well. But I best warn you that it is not an easy read if you have an overly-linear mindset. It consists of choral motions, twists and turns, evolutions and revolutions. Of her style she writes:
"My baroque style of writing, typical of Spanish poetry, may seem disruptive: the book’s arguments on divine enjoyment unfold through a series of choral motions. Evolutions, revolutions, and twists and turns give shape to the structure in which this basic idea moves from beginnings, to endings, to another set of beginnings."
In reading Padilla's book you must enjoy swimming: letting images and ideas wash over you, getting a sense for the choral motions. It's theopoetics, after all.
Still, her understanding of divine exuberance is relatively easy to understand, even for the non-specialist, if you consider her organizing framework. In discussing God's exuberance, Padilla emphasizes five themes: W
Pain: Groans and Birth Pangs of the Divine Enjoyment
Yearning: Traces of the Divine Erotic Existence in the Cosmos
Permeability: The Open Wounds of the Lovers’ Flesh
Intensity: Passionate Becomings of the Divine Complex
Impropriety: Incarnations of Carnivalesque Passion and Open-Ended Boundaries
In thinking about these five themes, I am helped by the spiritual alphabet of Frederic and Mary Ann Brussat. My sense is that their spiritual alphabet can help people of all faiths and no faith appreciate and interpret Padilla's five themes, adding more to the image of an exuberant God. For example, in the spiritual alphabet “C” is for connection, including the emotional connections that are both pleasurable and painful, “Y” is for yearning, which is inevitably a feature or eros; “I” is for Imagination, which opens the door for carnivalesque impropriety; and “P” is for play, which does the same.
Padilla’s gift is to invite us to see these and other moods and modes in our own lives and, of course in God. Toward this end she finds the philosophy of Alfred North Whitehead especially helpful. There are at least six ways of understanding God in process theology. God can be understood as:
a companion to the world's joys and sufferings
a guiding and animating energy in the cosmos
the cosmos itself, as interwoven with divine love
the ongoing song or life of the cosmos
the spirit of creative transformation
the primordial mind of the cosmos
Process theologians add that God is filled with what Whitehead calls "feelings" and "subjective forms." This is true of God as the primordial mind who feels all the timeless potentialities which may or may not be embodied in the unfolding of the cosmose; it is true of God as the ongoing life of the universe who feels and then weaves together all the stories into a single, ongoing story; and it is true of God as a companion to the world's joys and sufferings, sharing in all that is experienced by living beings on earth or in any plane of existence. Amid all of this God makes "decisions" on how to feel and respond to the world; process theologians believe that God's howness, God's way of being, is love. The upshot is that God is a Thou not an It. God, too, has an inner life.
This does not mean that God's inner life is human-like, but it does mean that it is life-like. In process theology all beings are becomings filled with feelings and subjective forms; and their lives include what what Whitehead calls subjective immediacy or self-enjoyment.
Even God self-enjoys. God self-enjoys by loving the world and loving life. God is exuberant. Divine enjoyment is not isolated or self-enclosed, it is nourished and partly composed of the experiences of others. God is in the cosmos, yes, and the cosmos is also in God. The idea that the cosmos is in God -- that is, within God's own inner life -- is especially important to Padilla and to most process theologians. It means that God's very life includes pleasure and pain. Padilla writes:
"Although the dictum that all things are imbued with the divine presence is nothing new, the concept that God is capable of becoming in relationship with the cosmos has been little explored with regard to its sequela of divine enjoyment. Introducing a tint of Latin American feminism, I bring a balance to life’s pain and pleasure, and place the cosmos more intimately within the inner existence of God as the source of fertility and vitality."
Padilla invites us to consider the possibility that passion and exuberance are fundamental to how we can enjoy life, albeit in a way that shares in the suffering of others and doesn't hide from the tragic side of life. She wants us to find our way into what she calls a new order of love. She invites us to long for this new order, responsive to
"an intimate and vulnerable God who incites us to daily enact communal life as a remembrance of events that speak of life fully, and places in us a longing for things yet to be manifested according to a new order of love."
At one point she speaks of this new order of love, this exuberant way of living, as zest for life. She writes:
'Every generation must recapture and reignite a zest for life abundant if it is to overcome systems of belief that seek to impose a reality contrary to deeply relational, interdependent, egalitarian, and communitarian forms of living.'
Here again we are reminded of the Brussats and their spiritual alphabet. In their alphabet “Z” is for zeal or, to say the same thing, zest for life. The Brussat’s description of zeal is worth quoting in full, because it resonates in many ways with Padilla’s sensibilities.
"The spiritual practice of zeal means being fully aroused by life. We tap into the divine energy that pulsates within us and around us…This spiritual practice includes a wholehearted delight in the senses and a passionate love for who we are and what we have been given.
This zest that is sorely needed in our time. A zest that is exuberant, that has fallen in love with life itself, that finds life in God and God in life. Here we can trust in a God who sings La Bamba and belly laughs. Padilla puts it this way:
So why not conclude a study on the divine enjoyment with a celebration, for surely even the dead—our ancestors—are dancing with us! Let us inaugurate the age of the God who belly laughs out loud in disruptive ways! Let us welcome play! And let us join in a celebration that welcomes the elements of air, fire, water, and earth, the interconnectivity with all living beings! Our love of and for the many, monstrous will be demonstrated in this act of laughter.