Thursday, May 28, 2015

Since "there's no end to grief," let's "set endless love to musical performance" so in the ruins we can know that "to know is to mourn"

photo credit

As I have said/confessed/sung/prayed  more than once, "I grieve not grieving."

                   But I finally realized that that  itself is inherently grieving, and thus a good place to start.

May He who began a good work in me be faithful to complete my encounter with grief..

Life is ruthless, indiscriminate....and ultimately supplying us the traumascape and holy ground of grief.

                   But often we need to gather..or enter into... a soundtrack and soundscape to 
                                                                sustain, sanctify and hold our grief-ground.

"Songs to Grieve By" could be a delightful name for a Spotify playlist.  I'll have to claim it.

     Of course the songs that make the cut  don't have to  all be  classically sad songs;
                                             laments, wails 
                                                                         and Pink Floyd downers.

Even though life is often best "tuned to minor chords"..
                    Some  of the songs selected should be uptempo and upbeat, 
and shamelessly embedded with unrepentant joy..

"California" by U2 is an intriguing choice.
The rocker is hardly a dirge; though a quick read at some of the lyrics might cause you to guess that it is.

This section has haunted  (stalked) me for months

I've seen for myself, there's no end to grief/That's how I know

 And why I need to know/That there is no end to love
All I know/And all I need to know is                          There is no end to love


U2 has faced an unimaginable string of losses in recent months:the 
Bono's harrowing accident,
   the death of the band's chaplain, the indefatigable  "north star" Jack Heaslip,
         the death of Larry's father the week of the tour kick-off..

and yesterday , this:

U2's road manager for 33 years, the amazing Dennis Sheehan died suddenly last night here in LA. Dennis was a calm and kind Christian man. The team is heartbroken so Adam, Larry, Edge, and Bono asked me to share some scripture, words of comfort, and pray with them right before they walked on stage tonight. After sharing the ‪#‎ChooseJoy‬story from my son's death, I asked "So how do you go out and do a concert when your heart is hurting?" Bono said "We choose joy!" Right. Pray for Pam who lost the love of her life.  link

That  version of  "choose joy" is not some "name-it, claim it" happy-clappy motto (Denial is not just a river in Egypt),  but  a hardwon  naked trust in the endless love that is know only through the crucible of endless grief.

That doesn't preclude anger..even yelling at life, grief, the grieved...and God.

Last night, at the end of "Raised by Wolves," itself a stunning public griefsong, Bono snippeted Psalm 23 in the outro (as usual), this time followed by "Comfort me.  COMFORT ME, COMFORT ME!"  (see video below).  Psalm 22 and 23 are two sides of the same whole and holistic grieflove lamentjoyprayer (see"The Lord Be With You...Even When He’s Not!")

Even St Paul unapologetically confessed, "I had no peace of mind."
                 And as another singer has added/midrashed "Peace of heart is better than piece of mind."

Peace of heart...finding love limitless in the midst of limanality and limitless grief is the only ways and means of knowing anything.  Not to mention are only lens for  knowing as we are known. ( By the way, we can know the Unknown Calle)r.

Note the last line  of that excerpt of "California"-- "there is no end to love" ---is itself a clear nod to Paul's 1 Corinthian's 13 insistence that "love never ends."
But do check well  the line before that, which has baffled me: "There's no end to grief.  That's how I know there is no end to love."
This  apparent nonsequitur and profound truth   is also thoroughly  Pauline.  NT Wright has detected in Scripture, notably in Paul, an "epistemology of love."
He even suggests that it must inevitably worked out in art; specifically music...even more specifically "musical performance":

....Is this then a reinforcement, from a musical point of view, for Dorothy L. Sayers’ thesis in The Mind of the Maker, to which I referred earlier?  Is there then indeed a Trinitarian pattern to the work of the artist or writer which, reflected back, provides some kind of evidence of who God may be?  I am not sure that this thesis can be sustained by itself, or that a natural theology built up by that means without help from elsewhere would arrive at anything approximating to the God and Father of Jesus, the giver of the Spirit.  But when the creative and aesthetic project meets the scriptural revelation — mediated, of course, through the thinking of the household of faith — then the two can perhaps at least be complementary.  I have explored elsewhere what I have called ‘an epistemology of love’, in which the sterile opposition between ‘objective’ and ‘subjective’ reductions of ‘knowing’ are transcended.   I think, and hope, that what Paul Spicer and I discovered in our work on the Oratorio was something like that: a love for the subject-matter, a love worked out in art and scholarship, through which we both learned and grew and grasped afresh some of the central matters of Christian faith. And if this is true it may be a pointer to something else - something which the whole Theology Through the Arts project is all about: the non-reducible, and not merely decorative, function of imagination within historical work (as Collingwood insisted) and also theological endeavour, as well as in musical composition and performance.

I realize that I have thus arrived, as a non-specialist, at more or less what Aquinas says in his famous formulation: ‘As grace does not destroy but perfects nature, it is right that natural reason should serve faith just as the natural loving tendency of the will serves charity.’  There is of course a dangerous circularity about reaching that conclusion about method precisely by engaging in what, I hope, might be an instance of it happening in practice.  But I think I have said enough to show that this is a fruitful area for further enquiry and experiment, especially if — though this would be a matter for specialists to enlighten me further — what Aquinas meant by ‘natural reason’ is a large enough category to embrace aesthetic and artistic integrity, the composer’s and conductor’s sense of ‘what works’.  Certainly in this case the composer’s — and conductor’s — aesthetic and artistic integrity ‘served faith’ in a way that makes the ordinary jobbing theologian and preacher jealous.  If all theology, all sermons, had to be set to music, our teaching and preaching would not only be more mellifluous; it might also approximate more closely to God’s truth, the truth revealed in and as the Word made flesh, crucified and risen. 
 NT Wright, link

Is this how the band got through the concert last night?
Is this how they get through every night?

I too have felt (well, maybe not; which is itself the problem) the deaths of a series of loved ones:
a cousin who was like a brother, dear friends from church...
and I have grieved not grieving.
And even though I have been weaning myself from the evangelical idol of certainty  in recent years (and that is a grieving indeed)..
   in recent weeks, thanks to U2's "California," and their healthy navigation of their own grieving, I have been learning and leaning into all that I need to know.

Steven Garber writes of Walker Percy (whom I am pretty sure is a U2 influence):

One of his best stories is Love in the Ruins. It is the first of two novels featuring the character Tom More, a fictional descendent of Sir Thomas More, “the man for all seasons” who, in the 16th century, was the Speaker of the House of Commons and the Lord Chancellor of England – and who refused to go along with Henry VIII’s desire for a divorce, so lost his head and his life. Percy’s More is a bad Catholic, a wandering husband who drinks too much, and a brilliant doctor. Written with a finger to the wind to the social turmoil of the 1960s, Percy wrote of Southern life embodied in the institutional frailties of the Love Clinic, a place where physicians and patients are thrown together in their hopes, longing to belong to someone somewhere.
Literally and metaphorically staggering his way through the story, More develops a machine that promises to save the day for the Love Clinic; he calls it “the qualitative/quantitative ontological lapsometer.” For anyone with ears to hear, attentive to the Enlightenment Project of the last few hundred years, Percy here captured the fundamental flaws of the modern world, fictional as they were in imagination and conception. When More is asked about the nature of a lapsometer, he replies – innocent as a dove, wise as a serpent – “It measures lapses – in the human soul.”
The dreams and debates of modernity, cascading as they are into postmodernity, are always at the heart of the human condition. It cannot be otherwise, as we are never more and never less than sons of Adam and daughters of Eve. So we take our place as folks who long to love and to be loved. Percy understood that with an unusual eye: historically, philosophically, psychologically, politically, and, yes, theologically, seeing the complexity for Everyman and Everywoman. We want love, yet we also know how hard it is to love and to be loved.
There’s the rub. To know and to love; to love and to know. Can both happen at the same time? Can we do both? Can we have both?
Most of the time it seems impossible. For reasons beyond the scope of this short essay, I would argue that human beings more often than not choose cynicism or stoicism as alternative accounts of life and of love. Rather than an epistemology of love, a way of knowing that is manifest in loving, we choose to protect our hearts, “knowing” with the poet Byron that “he who knows the most mourns the deepest.” To know is to despair. To know is to flounder. To know is to mourn.  link


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