Using the translated texts of sacred mystical poetry, David Wilcox and his wife, Nance Pettit, have created a recording of spare and intimate beauty, a product of evenings spent by the fire delighting in the words of ancient poets. As more and more songs evolved from the texts, friends asked for a recording of their work; Out Beyond Ideas was made in collaboration with musicians Phil Keaggy, Bill Kreutzmann (best known as the longtime drummer for the Grateful Dead), and many others. An Iraqi painter created the album art—notable on its own—that accompanies the poems printed in the liner notes, and the music includes one of the poems spoken in its original language, Farsi.
Wilcox and Pettit are clearly used to singing together, and their harmonies are comfortable and close. Like much of the album’s sound, the texts are simple and use only what is necessary to express the thoughts. The writers include St. Francis of Assisi and St. John of the Cross; Uvavnuk, an Inuit poet; Sufi and Jewish mystics; Tukaram of India and other Zen poets, all of whom find beauty in everyday occurrences, such as washing pots and planting seeds. Not only are these treasures and gifts from God, but the mystics see them as the way to God; contentment and wonder in the day-to-day things gives them a look into God’s very presence: “It helps, putting my hands on a pot, on a broom, or in a washing pail.”
“The Elephant Story” explores the old tale of an elephant “kept in a dark house,” each person feeling a different part one by one. The poem asks why they could not seek out the mystery together: “If each had a candle and they went in together/The differences would disappear.”
The shared ideas found in these poets’ words—made richer through Wilcox and Pettit’s work—translate into true activism. The album’s proceeds benefit the Partners in Conflict and Partners in Peacebuilding project at the University of Maryland’s Center for International Development and Conflict Management. The center works in violent and difficult situations around the world, through peacebuilding and conflict resolution—building bridges in as wide an array of communities as the poets themselves come from.
Out Beyond Ideas is that rare union of art and activism—the “message” of the album does not outweigh its musical worth or turn it into something preachy. And their music can be heard around the country: Wilcox and Pettit are in the midst of an 18-month tour, traveling in a trailer pulled by a biodiesel truck and teaching their son as they go. Out Beyond Ideas is a beautiful project, one that tells their own story as well as the universal stories of its ancient writers.
Elizabeth Green is public policy associate for Call to Renewal. For more information, visit www.outbeyondideas.org.