September 27, 2019


Robert Hunter's religious vision ( Jeffrey Salkin, September 26, 20196, RNS)

"Box of Rain." (1970).

What do you want me to do, to do for you to see you through...

What do you want me to do, to watch for you while you're sleeping?

Well please don't be surprised, when you find me dreaming, too..

Walk into splintered sunlight

 Inch your way through dead dreams

 to another land

 Maybe you're tired and broken

 Your tongue is twisted

 with words half spoken

 and thoughts unclear

 What do you want me to do

 to do for you to see you through

 A box of rain will ease the pain

 and love will see you through.

Robert Hunter wrote the song for bassist Phil Lesh, to sing to his dying father.

In a rock culture that is often reticent to speak of death (with the exception of late 1950s-early 1960s "dying in car crash" songs), this is a poignant hymn of expectations of mortality.

Because, at the end of life, it is only love that sees us through.

And finally, the greatest - IMHO.

"Ripple" (1970).  Check out this international version - it will move you immeasurably, and will testify to its hymn-like qualities. 

Several years ago, I performed a funeral for a young man who died too young.

He was a Deadhead, and his family requested that I include a Dead song.

There was no contest. Here is "Ripple" in full:

If my words did glow with the gold of sunshine

And my tunes were played on the harp unstrung

Would you hear my voice come through the music

Would you hold it near as it were your own?


It's a hand-me-down, the thoughts are broken

Perhaps they're better left unsung

I don't know, don't really care 

Let there be songs to fill the air


Ripple in still water

When there is no pebble tossed

Nor wind to blow

Reach out your hand

if your cup be empty

If your cup is full

may it be again


Let it be known there is a fountain

That was not made by the hands of men

There is a road, no simple highway

Between the dawn and the dark of night

And if you go no one may follow 

That path is for your steps alone


You who choose to lead must follow

But if you fall you fall alone

If you should stand then who's to guide you?

If I knew the way I would take you home.

Playing tunes on a harp unstrung? King David?

Cups that are empty, and might be full again? "My cup runneth over" from Psalm 23?

On my best days, this is what I believe.

When we reach out to each other, it is as if we are reaching out to God. God is the fountain of living waters -- m'kor mayim chayim -- that was not made by the hands of men. There is a repository of love. God is place of rest for our aching, yearning, journeying selves.

And, yes - if I knew the way, I would take you home.

Posted by at September 27, 2019 5:35 PM


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