Marketa Irglova and wrestling with the Angel
By Br Thomas Thérèse Mannion, O.P. | Br Thomas Thérèse has long been an admirer of the spiritual honesty, maturity, vulnerability he finds in the music of Marketa Irglova. Br Thomas focuses on her piece ‘Without a Map’ from her 2014 album MUNA as an example of this particularly in the context of Vocation.
I’ve long been a fan of Marketa Irglova, a Czech musician who won an Academy Award for original music written for a film called ‘Once’ which has since become a hit in the theatre as well as on the big screen. What impresses me most about Marketa’s work is her spiritual maturity characterised by vulnerability, honesty and often joy. This is a musician who has looked seriously, honestly at life and understands faith is an intimate relationship. I find myself indebted and grateful for her album MUNA, which features songs littered with biblical references and imagery without being superficial. In particular, her work ‘Without a Map’ which reminds me of Jacob wrestling with the Angel.
I often think the events we find in scripture will all at some point and in some way, play themselves out in our lives. Jacob’s wrestling with the angel reminds me of the various struggles people go through in coming to know and love their vocation. A struggle which does not necessarily end even after a definitive direction has been taken. Anyone who has struggled with their vocation or discernment, as Jacob grappled with the Angel or messenger of the Lord will identify with this song.
It begins with why Marketa is sent by God into a sort of wilderness: ‘God, I was sent here blind to learn to see, remembering you were always there with me’ later she says ‘I was sent here deaf to learn to hear to have faith in you and never fear’. Why is anyone ever sent into the Wilderness but to come closer to God? Both of these lead into a struggling with prayer, a feeling of abandonment, asking questions of God, calling on God’s own words and promises. You find a mirroring in her own life of the life of Jesus but in a way that is unique to her. She finds she must ‘keep moving when I wish to stay’ reminding me of when the Son of Man had no place to lay his head; there is no comfort here, only restlessness. The voice of God then speaks directly as the frustration in the music grows.
Marketa: What I lose here on earth…
God: Is lost in heaven.
Marketa: If I ask you for help…
God: It will be given.
Marketa: But you’ve waited this long…
God: You weren’t ready
Marketa: My devotion was strong…
God: It wasn’t steady.
Marketa: I have one more question…
God: You are I, and I am you.
Marketa: Why speak in riddles…
God: Then let me show the way
Marketa: That’s all I’ve wanted
God: That’s all you’ve had to say
Marketa: Well come on then, God, show me the way you’d like me to go and I won’t resume to question how I was ever supposed to know. There have been signs along the way but they’ve been so very obscure at times I thought I knew their meaning but how could I have ever been sure?
This raises so many fundamental questions many grapple with: why does my vocation seem to be so hard? Why does my faith or prayer life flounder so often? Why are things not more clear? How can I really know?
Apart from this direct dialogue, where we hear God himself in a symphony of voices which reminds me both of the Trinity but also the Mystical Body of Christ, Marketa herself speaks what God has told her: ‘Walk by faith and not by sight, and keep your heavy heart a float you are a timbre carved by knife but one day you may serve as a boat… You are strong enough, for all you’ll ever have to face the only map you need is Love, to guide you through this illusion of a maze’.
There are times in our spiritual life and our vocational discernment when we feel lost; in Marketa’s words ‘without a map’. This as Marketa says is an illusion even when we can’t seem to find a way out of the maze. We have the help we need from God himself who is Love, from the commandment and word he speaks which is Love. We find this love in many ways: through prayer, the sacraments, scripture (which Marketa regularly references) and his people – the mystical body – his Church and in other ways too. This does not make our struggle any less acute as she points out ‘There have been signs along the way but they’ve been so very obscure, at times I thought I knew their meaning but how could I have ever been sure?’. The desire in the song for God’s arms to cradle us and keep us safe is a natural one; however, this cannot replace the faith we need in following our vocation.
At the end of the song Marketa and the voices heard previously sing the Our Father in a unified act of faith. When St. Therese of Lisieux found herself in dark days she said that’s when she said made her act of faith. Outside of the darkness we can find a certain sense of surety, even if not certainty, we can find clarity. Our acts of faith are all the more important when we are in darkness because sometimes that is all you can do. ‘Without a Map’ ends with hope.
Image: Monumental Cemetery of Staglieno (Genoa), via Wikimedia Commons.