Like so many other classic rock prophets of the hippie era, Donavon celebrated the coming of the Age of Aquarius, singing…
Down through all of eternity, the crying of humanity —
’tis then when the hurdy gurdy man comes singing songs of love.
During the decade of the Vietnam war (the first war that ever televised dying in Living Color), Flower Children and acid rockers alike were calling for Love. Not simply the End of War (that too) but a generation of people who idealistically committed themselves to deliberately, consciously set aside all conflicts, injustices, self-serving greed and any other means whereby people chose to not-love one another. Bird-lovers everywhere were singing the praises of the “Dove of Peace” and its soon approach to humankind…
You can make the mountains ring
Or make the angels cry
Know the Dove is on the wing
And you need not know why
C’mon people now,
Ev’rybody get together
“Get Together”, by The Youngbloods
Back in 1968, when Donovan sang about the “hurdy gurdy man”, few people even knew what that meant. The hurdy gurdy is an ancient, stringed instrument, similar in sound to bagpipes and popular for centuries at feasts and festivals. Wherever the “hurdy gurdy man” traveled, people gathered in expectation of times of high-spirited laughter and merrymaking.
Donovan touched on this when he declared the Spirit of Love to be unconquerable by the inhuman cruelties of this world. In his mind, “songs of love” were already “winging” their way into the sorrows and troubles which characterize the normal, human condition.
That was 1968. People still love to hear that song — as well as others like “Get Together” — even though few people still celebrate the Age of Aquarius and its accompanying spirits of Love and Peace. Sing all you want — it’s not happening in any demonstrable way anywhere on earth. Not even San Francisco or Santa Cruz, and Woodstock has long since died.
Yet 2,000 years ago Jesus proclaimed, “Blessed are the Peacemakers — they will be called God’s Children.” Doesn’t it seem reasonable that people who claim to be “followers” of Jesus would be (more so than any other persons) “peacemakers”? Yet very few actually seem to bring “peace” or “love” into the troubles of this world.
Certainly, self-proclaimed Christian, President Jimmy Carter (Nobel Peace Prize winner!) is a highly public figure who travels about the world trying to “make peace”. But he’s also highly criticized for appearing injudicious if not half-witted by trying to extend the Olive Branch to dictatorial leaders known for their inhumanity to their own people as well as others. No “peace” has ever blossomed where Jimmy’s feet have trod.
Furthermore, Donovan sang of the “hurdy gurdy men”. These traveling minstrels compare well with Jesus’ commission to all His followers to bring the “Gospel” into all the world. Now, many people think the “Gospel” is a theological creed to which a person is required to mentally submit in order to keep from going to hell. But that’s not biblical — it’s just an accumulation of centuries of religious manipulation and strategies intended to control people and populations in Europe and around the world.
No — the word “Gospel” literally means “Good News”. Which makes me think of the Good Humor wagon which traveled the streets of many neighborhoods in years past, bringing cold popsicles and ice creams on hot summer days. When that tinkling musical van stopped near your house, you’d get a quarter (back then) from Mom and run out to catch him before he hustled on down the street to more children — excitedly waiting a block away. And when you gave him your quarter, do you think he’d hand you a tract and say, “If you don’t follow this ice cream van with your whole heart, you’re going to be thrown in hell forever!”? I mean, you might call that twisted idea “gospel” but could anyone ever call it Good News?
“Praying for World Pease” hasn’t fared well amongst “Christian” groups. Very few “followers of Christ” (?) have truly brought either peace or love — not even amongst their own neighborhoods or their religious sects. With Christians in the national news on a regular basis being appropriately lambasted for hypocritical or even criminal choices in areas of money, sex, and power, Christians en masse just don’t seem to be coming up to even a low standard of love, joy or peace.
Jesus set the bar for love, joy and peace 2,000 years ago. In His maturity, He traveled through literally hundreds of small villages in the land of Palestine, healing “all who came” and delivering all “who were under the power of the devil”. [New horror movie? “Freddy Krueger Meets Jesus”. It’s a really short film, sort of like the well known “Bambi Meets Godzilla“.] And wherever He went, showing the compassion of a loving God through healing and deliverance, Jesus preached the coming of the Kingdom of Heaven. (More could be said about that, but suffice it to say the Kingdom of Heaven beats the Age of Aquarius all to hell… so to speak.)
So — in our world so ravaged and ruined in so many ways, so many lives lived in boredom or misery — where are the “hurdy gurdy men”? Where are those people — filled with the Love of Jesus Christ, filled with the Joy that conquers all weariness, and filled with a Peace that helps us to be overcomers in the face of life’s familiar trauma and anxiety? Where are the true “followers of Jesus” in our lands today?
And would it tweak our sensibilities too far to consider Jesus Christ to be Heaven’s own “hurdy gurdy man”? The Gift from God of a traveling Minstrel singing songs of Life — songs around which people could gather with more than high-spirited laughter and merrymaking but also with broken hearts needing to be mended and misery needing to be set right?
Donovan touched on this when he declared the Spirit of Love to be unconquerable by the inhuman cruelties of this world. In his mind, “songs of love” were already “winging” their way into the troubled human condition.
Heaven’s hurdy gurdy men — followers of Jesus who truly carry His effectual power and love into the lives of their neighbors… Where are these minstrels today?
Not so much in church. Churches are often gatherings of religious people needing continual reaffirmation that they’re “right” and most others are not; gatherings of the gullible who believe “faith” means believing what is un-believable; even the gathering of people who want someone else to take care of them and tell them how to live, what to think, when to “worship”…
No. The “hurdy gurdy men” of the Kingdom of Heaven are mostly in the streets — the streets of your city, your town, your neighborhood. They’re there, but to find these true heralds of Jesus’ “Good News”, one must look for those who are bringing hope into the middle of people’s hours of crisis or arguing for love and reconciliation in contradiction to society’s cultural or economic protectionism.
And above all, if you keep your eyes and heart open, you’ll find the hurdy gurdy men and women of God to be the very ones in the course of your daily lives whose brief touch leaves you with greater peace and joy than you had before. These are the ones who wear on their sleeves hearts of love, patience, care and honor which (in place of putting others down) lift others up. Up. Up higher than themselves — higher and higher until one begins to hear and feel the very Songs of Heaven in the moment of life’s considerable challenges.