Wednesday, October 29, 2008

of course prayer is erotic...until elevated

:

Because of the common origin of our creation and redemption, an examination of our sex life leads to an examination of our prayer life and vice versa. -Eugene Peterson
link



Excerpt from my article several years ago:


To my amazement and delight, I stumbled upon a stunningly insightful commentary on U2’s song (and therefore prayer about, and theology of) "Elevation." I guess I shouldn’t have been surprised, as theological analysis of U2 is all over the world and web. (Even as scholarly papers at the business meetings of the "I guess they’re not so square and stodgy after all" Evangelical Theological Society…Baptist PhD’s contemplating the theological catalog of Bono!) . But this particular piece grasped and grappled so well with what U2 are (in Bono’s phrase) "on about" in "Elevation," and in general, I cannot anymore hear or pray the song without this review at hand. It has rocked my world, theology and prayer life. I had always intuitively felt the song was about, indeed was, prayer (Bono often says or sings "Turn each song into prayers"). But to definitively second that motion it took these words, which should be read slowly, and with "Elevation" playing softly (!) in the background:


Prayer is not something the pray-er just recites...it is an
experience he enters into. There is no room for inhibition; singing and dancing are essential means by which he expresses his emotional cleaving to God….but such ardor/desire for God has to be so overwhelming that any extraneous thoughts
are excluded…If distractions are erotic in nature…and the prayer-er faces up to the predominance of the sexual urge at both conscious and subconscious levels, and
its capacity to intrude even during prayer...then he



has learned to take
measures…by introducing the (ancient) doctrine of the "elevation of strange thoughts." This is a Chasidic Jewish technique not of sublimation, but of thought conversion, whereby the beauty or desirability of the woman is latched
upon and used not as a sexual but rather as a mental and spiritual stimulus. We are taught to "elevate" these thoughts by substituting the beauty of God for the
physical beauty that is currently

bewitching us. The pray-er has learned to immediately contrast the pale reflection of beauty that humans are endowed with,
on the one hand, and the supreme Divine source of authentic and enduring beauty, on the other…This is not sublimation; This is elevation
.
Wow! Surely anyone who re-reads the lyrics to "Elevation"...

High, higher than the sun
You shoot me from a gun
I need you to elevate me here,
At the corner of your lips
As the orbit of your hips
Eclipse, you elevate my soul

I've lost all self-control
Been living like a mole

 going down, excavation
I and I in the sky
You make me feel like I can fly
So high, elevation

A star lit up like a cigar
Strung out like a guitar
Maybe you could educate my mind
Explain all these controls
I can't sing but I've got soul
The goal is elevation

A mole, living in a hole
Digging up my soul
Going down, excavation
I and I in the sky
You make me feel like I can fly
So high, elevation

Love (sometimes "Lord"), lift me out of these blues
Won't you tell me something true
I believe in You


A mole, living in a hole
Digging up my soul
Going down, excavation
I and I in the sky
You make me feel like I can fly
So high, elevation
Elevation...
Elevation...
Elevation...

Jubilation!.

 (or ventures and voyeurs a watching as Bono sings/prays/dances/incarnates it on concert DVD), will surely fall at the feet and conclusions of the reviewer, admitting that he  is astoundingly accurate. And I (seminary grad!) didn’t even know until I found this review that "elevation" was the official name for an ancient and established style and form of prayer. Surely this is exactly what Bono is fundamentally "on about" in this song; even in wider life and mission.   He has said it is a song about transcendence ("The song  is fun and frolics but the goal is soul.  It is about sexuality and transcendence" ). Just for starters, lets interlace the lyrics to the song "Elevation" itself, and the review thereof:


Prayer is not something (Bono) just recites...it is an
experience he enters into. There is no room for inhibition; singing and dancing are essential means by which he expresses his emotional cleaving to God….but
such ardor/desire for God has to be so overwhelming("You make me feel like I could fly") that any extraneous thoughts are excluded…If distractions are erotic in nature…and (Bono) faces up to the predominance of the sexual urge ("I’ve lost
all self-contol"
)at both conscious and subconscious("Digging up my soul/Going down/Excavation") levels, and its capacity to intrude even during prayer( "Tell me something true/I believe in You"")...then he has learned to take measures…by
introducing the ancient doctrine of the "elevation of strange thoughts." This is
a Chasidic Jewish technique not of sublimation, but of thought conversion, whereby the beauty or desirability of the woman(the corner of your lips/the
orbit of your hips")is latched upon and used not as a sexual  ("orbit of your hips..eclipse") but rather as a mental ("I need you to elevate my mind") and spiritual("you elevate my soul")
stimulus. We are taught to "elevate" these thoughts by substituting the beauty of God for the physical beauty that is currently bewitching us. (Bono) has
learned to immediately contrast the pale reflection of beauty that humans are endowed with, on the one hand, and the supreme Divine source of authentic and enduring beauty, on the other. This is not sublimation ('a mole..going down"), but elevation.


Because it so convincing, I hope Bono read the review I quoted, and I’m guessing he may well have. Not because I found it in Rolling Stone, or another obvious publication that Mr. Vox has been known to frequent, but because it’s in a classic book called "Blessed are You: A Comprehensive Guide to Jewish Prayer," by Rabbi Jeffrey Cohen, copyright 1993.

That’s right, a
commentary on U2’s "Elevation" written long before the song. (And of course, "elevation" as the name of a prayer-vehicle has been around for centuries).  No, I didn’t truly trick you; though I did keep that card up my sleeve (All I did to the text was insert Bono’s name where the author had "the praying person" and the like). But surely this passage is a  radically relevant review..uh, preview..of the record. As much as we can often find more God in the lyrics than Bono (or God) intended; this would be a case where, even if the song is about different things on different levels, it at heart revolves around this technique of prayer. It is too close a match that it’s precisely "the orbit of the hips" that catapult elevated (versus sublimated, in the rabbi’s terms; "excavated and going down" in Bono’s) prayer into action. Whether or not Bono has the "Blessed are You" book in the mad stack by his bedside or not; there can be no divorcing this song’s inspiration from its interpretation by the rabbis; or from...continued:The Bomb Part 1: And Elevation Begat Vertigo
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"Prayer never asks for anything for oneself; strictly speaking, it makes no demands at all, but is an elevation of the soul. This describes true prayer."-Rabbi Abraham Isaac Kuk: Prayer as the Elevation of Desire--

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2 comments:

  1. P. Dave, I love this entry more than any blogpost I've ever read. Masterfully sighted!

    ReplyDelete
  2. Mark..way belated thanks. come back an blog yourself again..you are missed

    ReplyDelete

Hey, thanks for engaging the conversation!