The Soul of Latvia

It is good to be home. There is no denying that. But I also miss Latvia! So many impressions and observations are floating around in me and, I’m sure of it, in the rest of the team. Sometime next week we will meet again to debrief our trip. The time to process individually is important and we need to wait to meet until we have Kim back from her sojourn in Austria. In the meantime, I wanted to post just a bit about the heart of Latvia as I observed it.

Some background information for this post. Latvia is a small, beautiful gem of a country and people. It is located on the Gulf of Riga which is a sub-basin of the Baltic Sea. Because of its location and the geographically strategic possibilities inherent in it, Latvia has enjoyed only about 70 years of independence for its entire history. In the last 100 years they have experienced occupation by the Nazis and the Soviet regime. Even with a history touched by so many other cultures, the evidence of which is everywhere in architecture, language, music, etc., there is a strong Latvian culture, language, and heritage. Latvians know they are Latvian. Latvians love Latvia.

Latvians are devoted to music as an expression of their souls. Music underpins the many festivals of their national life. We were blessed to experience the Latvian Children’s Song and Dance Festival shortly after our arrival and then to enjoy the Baptist Song Festival in Cesis our last weekend in Latvia. Over the course of the song festival we witnessed various expressions of music in St. John’s Church, one of the oldest churches in Latvia. We enjoyed choral presentations, a beautiful piece on the old pipe organ, and Youth Worship late into the evening. We heard an outstanding pianist in concert at the Cesis Concert Hall. But my favorite of all was listening to the combined Baptist Church choirs, including the choir from our sister church Matthews Church, at the united worship service on Sunday morning at the end of the festival. The songs used for the service were a combination of songs we knew like “How Great Thou Art” and other completely unfamiliar songs, of course all in Latvian. The song that most captured my heart was a song written by Latvian composer Eriks Esenvalds entitled “Dveseles dziesma” or Soul Song. As we watched and listened to this song being sung it was evident that the song came from the hearts of those who voiced it. Even those listening were obviously captured by the song. It was clear that the words had power for the people … that they somehow expressed their own hearts. I’ve captured a portion of the song in a somewhat shaky video clip linked below. Because of the obvious power of the song, I came home and looked for a translation of the words. No translation is perfect and I so wish I understood Latvian to better grasp what this song means to the heart of my friends. But I think I get it in part. Latvia has four main regions. Each region is defined by geography, agriculture, economy and the items produced. And each region is acknowledged in this song  — the coastal region feels the sting of a reduction in demand for fish — especially that which is exported to Russia; the north mourns the loss of Staburags, a culturally significant cliff formation, after the Soviets built a dam that flooded it; the southern fields seem to reflect the steadfastness and beauty of hope in the Latvian soul; and from the industry and utility of the east a reminder of the continuance of provision from Latvia for Latvia.  At the end of the video clip you’ll hear the people reciting together ‘The Lord’s Prayer’ as the closing to the combined worship assembly.

This song speaks the heart of the Latvian people. It acknowledges hard times, it hears the heart of God in the midst, and it somehow inspires hope in the continuance of the life of Latvia. And it invites me to love this country and people even more. Enjoy!

SOUL SONG by Eriks Esenvalds

It sings, my soul sings
Silently, through thousands of voices
God is singing in my soul
Which is over-pouring with starlight
It is saddened, my soul is saddened
Like fishing nets left by the seacoast
It is saddened, my soul is saddened
It is saddened, in Kurzeme

It sings, my soul sings
Silently, through thousands of voices
God is singing in my soul
Which is over-pouring with starlight
Cries, my soul cries,
In agonizing pain because of the fate of Staburags
Cries, my soul cries,
It cries, in Vidzeme

It sings, my soul sings
Silently, through thousands of voices
God is singing in my soul
Which is over-pouring with starlight
Blooms, my soul blooms,
Like a sunflower in a wheatfield
Blooms, my soul blooms,
It blooms, in Zemgale

My song shines, my song prays, my song loves In Latvia
My song shines, my song prays, my song loves In Latvia

It sings, my soul sings
Silently, through thousands of voices
God is singing in my soul
Which is over-pouring with starlight
Burns, my soul it burns
Like a milk-mug made in a clay oven
Burns, my soul it burns
It burns, in Latgale

My song shines, my song prays, my song loves in Latvia
My song shines, my song prays, my song loves in my Latvia
My song shines, my song prays, my song loves in Latvia

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