Yesterday, 15 April, in Trnava Slovakia, a brilliant man was buried. Joseph Roy Sheppherd, was an Anthropologist, and Archaeologist, an author of many wonderful books, and one of the most wonderful people I have ever had the joy to know. He was also the first person to ever commission a song from me. He was a brilliant story-teller and his years spent in rain forests and and among indigenous peoples the world over gave him a seemingly bottomless bag full of tales to tell. He was a wayfarer, in search of the sacred.
I first met Joseph and his wonderful wife Jan at Bosch Baha’i School in the fall of 2003 and they invited me to join them at their home in Bend Oregon the following February to provide music for a special study of The Bab, and Baha’u’llah – two holy beings of the Baha’i Faith. I flew to Portland and drove past the base of Mt. Hood and arrived in Bend a day early. Joseph had prepared some special visual aids for the session. He had a local craftsman reproduce a neck shackle just like the one Baha’u’llah and other early believers wore during their imprisonment. He also had leg-stocks, made from a log, like the device used on the early Babi prisoners. He had acquired some chain segments for display just to let us feel the tremendous weight that was once borne by our Lord’s neck.
Jan and Joseph moved to Slovakia in 2008 (I think) and Joseph began researching old folk tales of the region and working on a book in which to collect them. In August of 2009, Joseph asked me if I would help him by writing a song to go with the stories he would write. The first was called “The Vodnik” – about an underwater shape-shifting creature who emerge from the lake at noon or at midnight to capture the souls of children. I couldn’t say no, I had to try. I sent him a recording of “The Vodnik” later in the fall and he played it for some Slovak youth. You can hear it here: http://darrellelmerrodgers.bandcamp.com/track/the-vodnik He said “they loved it”, but more importantly, they were touched that an American, half a world away, would want to write a song about their cultural heritage. That was the real reward. That was the “sacred” treasure.
That was Joseph’s real talent: Bringing the sacred home. His book “The Wayfarer’s Guide to Bringing the Sacred Home” was among the first Baha’i books distributed by the Baha’i Publishing Trust through commercial bookstores.
I am going to miss him severely. But I am not alone. The man had over 4,000 Facebook friends, and I dare say he likely had actually met most of them. Stories written by him, and ABOUT him will be told and retold for years to come. And a good number of them will be true!
I think he has left us way too soon. But when the wayfarer is called home, he must go. From “The Hidden Words” by Baha’u’llah:
O SON OF JUSTICE!
Whither can a lover go but to the land of his beloved? and what seeker findeth rest away from his heart’s desire? To the true lover reunion is life, and separation is death. His breast is void of patience and his heart hath no peace. A myriad lives he would forsake to hasten to the abode of his beloved.
(Baha’u’llah, The Persian Hidden Words)
God Bless and keep you Joseph in the palm of His hand.