Happy are the people who know the festal shout (Psalm 89)

Teach me to shout. Teach me the happy shout of the free. Groans and moans, like ravens, come on their own. And sighing from mourning is too much our daily bread.

So teach me to shout. Teach me the shout of a child surprised by walking—that burst of delight that streaks across the room towards big outstretched arms.

Don’t teach me to shout my silly head off. Don’t teach me to shout slogans, or shout down the opposition, or shout threats into the dark like rubber bullets into a crowd.

Don’t make me crazy about this. Like the angry woman on the corner of 1st and 3rd shaking her rolled up Watchtower in the blind faces of passers-by; or like the ejaculating revivalist down at the arena; or the unfortunate man pacing the sidewalk who explodes with bible verses at every turn.

Just teach me the festal shout. Let me go out in the bush and practice on the squirrels and black-capped chickadee’s—all the forgiving creatures.

And for God’s sake, even before I prevail upon the pines, before I break the air with some clapperclaw, teach me the words.

What are the words? What was that word for nothing left to lose? And what vestigial piece of my heart would I be willing to lose to find it?

And then—should I have it in me to get low and reach into the live soil to unearth, like truffles, some good words—teach me their tone.

Teach me intonation and inflection and how to lay the right stress on every lilting syllable. Give my voice strength and clarity and resonance to enchant every hammer, anvil and stirrup, and charm each organ of Corti. Teach me to sing those words with the low-throated energy of Janis J. without flashing out like a strip of phosphorus.

Maybe then, after a lifetime in class, the festal shout will bubble up from some infinitely deep fissure, rising slowly, warm and inevitable as the sun, until it reaches the back of my throat and I’m compelled by some slow quiet force to shout across a light-soaked horizon to where rivers meet.

In the mean while, I would follow anyone who could do this. No incipient mute muse for me. I’ll listen for the cheers going up and follow my ears to the festivals, perhaps to find such a piper.

This after all is what the young woman in front of me wants; even as she stands at the CD carrousel by the check-out counter, turning it absentmindedly while waiting her turn. She, like all of us with blinkered ears, could not tell you the exact lyric, give you the precise shout, or hope to explain what it sounds like, but she would know it to hear it.


  1. This is profound. Thank you for sharing this. I appreciate the diction: “every lilting syllable,” “light-soaked horizon,” and, my personal favourite, “blinkered ears.” I live in a small town in BC called Telkwa, the name of which comes from a First Nations word for “where the rivers meet,” so it was cool to read that line in your post, too.

    One question: Can you please explain the reference to “Janice J?”

    With gratitude,
    Stanley, Telkwa BC

  2. Along with Stanley, I enjoyed the turns of phrases, but the one that caught me was “ejaculating revivalists”. Where did you come up with that??

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