NPR logo What's In A Song: The Real 'Prayer Flags'


What's In A Song: The Real 'Prayer Flags'

In this week's What's in a Song, singer Kristina Olsen describes how Tibetan prayer flags flying over porches near her home in Venice, Calif., became the inspiration for a song.


For some, bringing in the new year means praying for good things to come. Kristina Olsen ponders the reasons for prayer in this What's in a Song from the Western Folklife Center.

KRISTINA OLSEN: (Singing) What if we hung the prayer flags to tell the gods we're fine.

In my travels around the world, I often see these Tibetan prayer flags fluttering off of porches in places that are so far from Tibet, you know. My own part-time home in Venice, California, I'll see them fluttering off multimillion-dollar little houses now, which were once ghetto houses. And the juxtaposition of little handmade Tibetan prayer flags hanging off of the balcony with such opulence got my mind going.

(Singing) What if we said thanks for the help, over the years? What if we said...

The things I've heard about the prayer flags is that the bright colors on the fluttering movement catch the gods' eyes and the gods can then bestow attention to those prayer flags and perhaps answer the prayers that are being asked. And so I started worrying that the gods were putting their attention in different places than the prayer flags needed to be.


OLSEN: I'm very, very fortunate, and I've been raised in a way of sort of an ambivalence towards religion. And I thought the few times that I've tried to be religious is always when something seemed really desperate. And if I look back, those moments of desperation were incredibly not desperate, really.

(Singing) What if we said we're sorry that we asked for stupid things?

I think my whole life I've had a little bit of a struggle between the dogma of the church and the spirituality that is naturally handed to me. And the one place I find spirituality directly is through music. That's where it goes straight to my spirit, my heart, my soul. And that's always been the shortcut path to something that is bigger than myself and something that feels incredibly beautiful and at peace and glorious.

(Singing) We'll hang the flag, the prayer flag to show that we are fine.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE, BYLINE: What's in a Song is produced by Hal Cannon and Taki Telenidis of the Western Folklife Center with support from the George S. and Delores DoreEccles Foundation.


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