As I listened to my regular Saturday night music – The Midnight Special on WMFT – I heard “Mercy Bound” as sung by Joan Baez. They were honoring her 80th birthday by playing a number of her recordings (including interesting snippets from interviews with Studs Terkel).
I was not familiar with Mercy Bound. In a first listening, I struck by a line, “In my mind I see myself”. I didn’t have a clear picture of the scene as I mostly heard the tone, solemn.
As is the case with radio programs, the music is here, and then it is gone. So I went searching for the lyrics. Links to a video of Joan singing Mercy Bound, its lyrics, and interviews are all listed below.
I had missed the opening line about “waking up in a dream” and now saw the context of a cultural scream of bypassed people in cold doorways. Last Wednesday, on the Feast of Three Magi, another scream was heard from people who did not have a dream of Mercy being anywhere near, much less ahead of them. There was only grievance and loss and an attempt to deal with that by causing grief and loss to the supposed winners of economic and political power. They have no expectation of a morning light streaming mercy into their lives.
The line that had caught me was a reflection on a woman in her first trimester of pregnancy (a condition of great hope and fear). The singer is surprised to recognize themself still with hope, as well as familiar fear.
It is in the singer’s imagination that a connection is made, and a “prayer” expressed that our common dreaming will lead us all to recognize we all are mercy bound. I expect it will take many more of these epiphanies before enough dreams can lead us through the current thrashing nightmare. May you keep your imagination fresh for the new social contract that needs making. May you forever know you are mercy bound, and a good way to ground that is by extending mercy, even to the unmerciful. (This does not mean avoiding accountability, but the context of such judgments is wider than strict justice.)
There are miles and kilometers to go before we sleep in peace and dream of mercy.
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A video of the song is available at – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ysO7RTk1aeU
The lyrics by Mark D. Addison can be found at – http://www.traditionalmusic.co.uk/baez/png/mercy_bound-joan-baez.png
Interviews with Studs Turkel – https://studsterkel.wfmt.com/search?query=Joan+baez