There is an ancient Hindu myth where the 60,000 sons of King Sagara are turned to ashes for their arrogance and impudence towards the sage Kapila while looking for their father’s sacrificial horse stolen by Indra, the chief of the gods. After 4 generations, a great-great grandson of Sagara, named Bhagīratha, succeeds through austerities in propitiating the goddess Gangā (the river Ganges) to descend from heaven to earth and flow over the ashes, purifying them to allow their souls to go to heaven. Lest the force of her falling torrent destroy the earth, the god Shiva agrees to have Gangā land on his head as an intermediate point to break the fall. The story ends with Bhagīratha leading the mighty river Gangā in stately procession to the ashes of his ancestors to complete the purification.
The descent of the divine that grants a blessing is a perennial theme. Zeus descends upon Danäe as a shower of gold that bestows a son, the Holy Spirit begets a savior on a virgin, and the mystics speak of the rain of grace, a spiritual inundation in the arid world of materiality.
The intricate warp of harmony and weft of melody in polyphonic music or the arresting juxtaposition of beauty and intelligence in any art form also provide openings to this grace if the attention is open and the mind is still, offering an unobstructed conduit to a force that is always flowing, if we would only surrender our individual channels to its current.
In Leonard Bernstein’s West Side Story, Tony and Maria sing these lyrics from the song “Tonight”:
Today the world was just an address
A place for me to live in
No better than all right
But here you are and what was just a world is a star tonight
Tonight, tonight, it all began tonight
I saw you and the world went away
Is it grace? Is it love? All we know is that when it blesses us, “the world goes away” and we are in touch with a vast space filled with light and bliss, perhaps with who or what we truly are. The dry dust of our quotidian existence receives a downpour and bursts into a flowering spring.