Video and Audio

Spiritualizing Loneliness - I've Passed My Life as a Stranger, Lord, Ep. 12

Keshava Betts
October 1, 2021


I’ve passed my life as a stranger, Lord:
Roamed far in foreign lands.
Far, Lord, far too far!
Only he who knows he’s far from home,
Only he, Lord, understands.
Only he who knows he’s far from home
Feels the earth, and understands.

Sometimes a stranger did take me in;
Then love I thought was near:
Love, Lord—where is Love?
As the winds upon the desert sand
Whisper hope, then disappear:
As soft winds breathe on the desert sand,
So love sighs, then disappears.

Sometimes a child laughed, and I did pause,
And dreamed of joys at home:
Joys, Lord—only a dream!
For what joy is there without Your smile?
Empty, like the ocean foam!
For what joy is there without Your smile?
You’re the sea: All else is foam!

How long must I be a wanderer, Lord?
You know where I belong!
You know, Lord: Yes, You know.
Home is where my Lord’s sweet presence is:
I’ve grown tired of strangers’ songs.
Home is where my Lord’s sweet presence is:
Bless me, that I hear Your songs!

(by Swami Kriyananda)

Comments by the composer: "All the songs I have written express my sincere feelings and convictions. Sometimes they do so humorously, sometimes allegorically. Often they are expressed in symbolic imagery, and not always literally or with the grim intensity that often accompanies sincere self-expression. Very rarely do these songs express my own personal feelings. I have strivenin all of them, that is to say, to present truth in its eternal aspect, which is ever impersonal.

On the rare occasions when I gave vent to my personal feelings, I always held them up to eternal truth. Thus, any sadness or gaiety that this or that piece expresses has been impersonal also. For I believe that art should be a gift, and a service to others for their instruction and inspiration; it should not merely inflict on them the artist’s personality. I should say also that, although I myself feel deeply about life, my feelings are rarely, if ever, personal. That is to say, if a beautiful line of music moves me to tears, I do not feel that I, myself, am weeping so much as that tears belong to the beauty itself. Thus, very few of my songs are in any sense autobiographical. I see my little life as having meaning only to the extent that it may benefit others also.

I’ve often been asked, especially in India, “Where do you come from?” This simple question is more difficult to answer for me, personally, than for most people, for I wasn’t born in my own country. I was born in Romania. My parents were American, but Romania, for the first thirteen—the formative—years of my life, was my home. Yet English, not Romanian, was my mother tongue. My family lived as expatriates in Teleajen, a little enclave of Americans, English, and Austrians. All the men in this enclave were employees of Romano-Americana, a subsidiary of Standard Oil of New Jersey. We didn’t speak much Romanian, except to servants and tradespeople, and of course when we were away from home.

Only once every three years or so our family returned to America for a vacation, which usually lasted about three months. Our American cousins spoke of us as “our cousins from Romania.” I used to think of myself as American, but I didn’t really feel at home after we moved there. In fact, I began to be unsure where I did belong.

Thus, the first words of this song are literally, and not only figuratively, true. “I’ve passed my life as a stranger, Lord: Roamed far in foreign lands.” This has been the story of my life, a story which began when I was only six months old, traveling with my parents to America for the first time.

Another of my songs, “Brothers,” states, “I’ve been in many countries, and mixed with many men.” That line, too, is autobiographical.

I’ve roamed “far, Lord, far too far,” states this first song. Too far from what, one may ask? From my youth onward, the only home I knew was, in a sense, my own self—that is to say, in the Lord’s presence within. Hence, those words in the song. Are they not true for everyone?

“Only he who knows he’s far from home . . .

Feels the earth, and understands.”
What is the meaning here? “The earth” is a symbol for matter: its color, its shape, its substance—whether hard or soft. The more conscious one is of God as one’s sole reality, the more everything material reminds him that he belongs elsewhere—that his true home is in God.

“Sometimes a stranger did take me in. Then love I thought was near. Love, Lord, where is love?” These words have universal, and not only autobiographical, meaning. Everyone comes to realize at last that all love, out of God, is a mirage. If nothing else comes to separate people, death itself at last closes the door firmly on every outward relationship. The song tells the story: “As the winds upon the desert sand whisper hope, then disappear . . . so love sighs, then disappears.” Every human being must surely experience at some time or another the sharp pang of longing, the trembling hope of fulfillment, the heavy sighs of sadness and disappointment.

“Sometimes a child laughed, and I did pause, and dreamed of joys at home.” That child was myself. As a child I was, for several years, very happy. And then came illness; I was sent away at nine years of age to a school in the salubrious climate of French Switzerland. There, for a year and a half, I suffered from illness and homesickness. “Joys, Lord—only a dream!” Our very joys are only reminders that our true home is not here on earth. Years of ensuing sadness convinced me of two truths: Joy is the true and only worthwhile goal of life; and joy will be found permanently only in God. Hence the lines: “For what joy is there without Your smile? You’re the sea: All else is foam!”

More and more urgently the thought forced itself upon me as I grew up: Here on earth I was a wanderer, seeking his true home in Infinity.

This song expresses not sadness, as may seem to be the case when one first hears it. It is, in a sense, a song of victory in one-pointed yearning for God alone."

— From the book “I’ve Passed My Life as a Stranger, Lord” by Swami Kriyananda