Saturday, April 9, 2011

Resurrection Song

We all want to rise...
A few weeks ago, I finished reading Malcolm Gladwell's "Blink," which is about snap judgments, fast intuitions, and how they are more accurate than we realize. The book is fascinating because he weaves in examples from so many different fields.

In an interview on Gladwell.com, he says, "In just the first four chapters, I discuss, among other things: marriage, World War Two code-breaking, ancient Greek sculpture, New Jersey's best car dealer, Tom Hanks, speed-dating, medical malpractice, how to hit a topspin forehand, and what you can learn from someone by looking around their bedroom." Then he adds, "So what does that make 'Blink?' Fun, I hope."

Definitely! I couldn't put it down.

One of the examples that stood out for me had to do with Kenna, an Ethiopian born (American) musician. Kenna's demo tapes were an immediate hit with record company executives and other music "experts," who knew from the first few seconds that this artist was exceptional. But he never hit it big with the mainstream. In fact, most people polled in pre-release surveys scored him at about a 4 out of 10. Anticipating low sales, the record companies dropped him like a hot potato. It took him a while to get his first CD out, and the second is still in the works.

I am not a music maven (my sister is the expert, with tastes ranging from Bach to 80s punk rock) but the story piqued my interest. So I did some digging on iTunes and bought a few songs I liked. One of them was "Daylight."



In general, it seems like songs have two faces: there are the lyrics, and then there is the feeling of the music itself, the gestalt of the song as sound. Sometimes one belies the other. In some of Van Morrison's later music, for example, the lyrics are full of the weight and disillusionment of old age, but the music itself is cheerful and smooth. On the opposite extreme, there is the oxymoronic Christian heavy metal: the lyrics are supposedly Christian, but the music itself has all the jagged edges and dissonance of heavy metal. It reminds me of a musical Nicotine patch for people who are trying to kick the Twisted Sisters habit... or whatever.

In "Daylight," word and gestalt fit together. It seems to capture the moment of emergence from a painful, heavy darkness into light, into life. The music has an aching feeling of yearning and struggling, as if the wounds of old addictions are still burning under the surface, but he is reaching for a new beginning.

Daylight, leave the shadows falling behind
Put your depressed sedations to rest
There's nothing, nothing to medicate
Let the rush of the spirit find me.

I'll go, I'll go for daylight.

Daylight, leave the black life and dark-filled rage
And let all obsessions fade
The constant, the constant is love
With you, with you.

Hey love, hey love
Hey love, hey love

We all wanna rise
Seconds, seconds they fly by, yeah
We all wanna rise
We all wanna see light
We wanna see light

In a way, it's a Resurrection Song. I doubt it was intended to be Christian-- it doesn't seem so, judging from some of Kenna's other songs-- but it has that movement upward and outward, from an inner hell to something higher he calls love. It has that yearning for redemption, that fever for meaning and transcendence, that surge of inchoate desire for something more, something beautiful and light-filled, something high and pure and liberating, like a white bird in flight. As he says, "We all wanna rise, we all wanna see light." We do!

So... I hear this and wonder: Is there a way to speak to this desire more effectively?  How can the Church (how can we) guide people like this to God when there are so many land mines along the way, so many issues and even words that trigger rejection? People are looking for meaning, but when the "answer" comes clothed in all the human imperfections of an actual organization, all the charm of mystery evaporates from the proposition. Redemption, yes. The Catholic Church, not so much.

Pope Benedict said that the Catholic Church of the future will be a smaller Church, but its members will be believers of the heart. It will be less institutionally powerful; the presence of faith within it will be more concentrated and condensed, more alive and personal. I wonder if it will also be a Church of listeners. It seems to me that clever apologetics will be less and less effective. Clarity about doctrine is always necessary, of course, but something more is needed now. The greatest ally to evangelization might just be that in an age of instant and proliferating communication, what people hunger for most is not just to talk and be heard, but to be listened to deeply, to be received and accepted without judgment. Maybe this will be the act of love that will mean most in the days to come. Maybe those days are already here.

But then there is always that reality of snap judgments about people. Gladwell himself warns that we can be grossly mistaken because of our own subjectiveness and limitations. People have so many depths, and they change over time; they mature and grow out of old mindsets and ways of being. They are shaped by their choices, especially. I think the challenge will be to let people reveal themselves little by little, withholding a final judgment, and certainly not making a definitive judgment about things that only God can know.

This will take so much mental discipline, but I think it is so necessary. Catholics need to get out of the ghetto and be in touch with a wider range of people. I write this mainly for myself, as something I would like to grow into, as the way I would like to be. It's an aspiration, that's all... to become quiet and to learn to listen to the song inside of other people, in the lyrics of what they say and in the gestalt of how they are and what they do.

Everyone has a personal Redemption Song inside. Maybe listening can help bring it out to the light.