Thanks to the recommendation of my friend-and-literary-therapist George, I’ve been watching episodes of “Mad Men” for a glimpse of the world of the early 1960s. It is a well crafted show with compelling characters. For a moralist like me, though, it’s hard to see much of spiritual significance behind the haze of cigarette smoke and steamy sex.
Last night, in episode 6 of season 1, however, I caught a glimpse of the sacred in the profane.
Don Draper, the lead character, was at a club in the Village with his lover and one of her Beatnik boyfriends. Don and the beatnik were sparring about the size of their manhood (not biological – more vocational, and social-political). Don’s lover was trying to distract them by showing more leg.
On stage a “performer” read the obituary section out of the newspaper.
Following him a busty brunette recited a poem about being ravished by Fidel Castro at the Waldorf-Astoria, then coming out and seeing Nikita Khrushchev plucking chickens. After the recitation, she responded the to an audience command to take her sweater off.
Don starts to leave, but his lover urges him to stay for one final act.
Then, 3 men took the stage – two playing instruments (one was the mandolin). They began to sing in a plaintive voice –
By the waters the waters of Babylon
We lay down and wept and wept for Thee Zion
We remember we remember we remember Thee Zion
More than a Hebrew folk song, these words are rooted in Scripture. Historically, they describe the suffering of Israel in exile. Spiritually, they depict our separation from our homeland, and thus, from God.
While the sacred song continues, the scene shifts –
…. to Don’s boss and his lover getting dressed in a hotel after another adulterous affair.
…. to Don’s current love interest – a Jewish business owner who is thinking of submitting to his advances.
…. to Don’s wife putting lipstick and a slip on her 7-year old daughter.
All of these characters are trapped in Babylon. They long for the homeland, but they have little idea where it is and no clue how to get there.
By the rivers of Babylon, there we sat down, yea, we wept, when we remembered Zion.
We hanged our harps upon the willows in the midst thereof.
For there they that carried us away captive required of us a song; and they that wasted us required of us mirth, saying, Sing us one of the songs of Zion.
How shall we sing the Lord’s song in a strange land?
If I forget thee, O Jerusalem, let my right hand forget her cunning.
If I do not remember thee, let my tongue cleave to the roof of my mouth; if I prefer not Jerusalem above my chief joy.
Remember, O Lord, the children of Edom in the day of Jerusalem; who said, Raise it, raise it, even to the foundation thereof.
O daughter of Babylon, who art to be destroyed; happy shall he be, that rewardeth thee as thou hast served us.
Happy shall he be, that taketh and dasheth thy little ones against the stones. (Psalm 137)