Month: September 2012

‘No-one knows just why we’re here’: the spirituality of Sarah Blasko’s “I Awake”

I always hear a sad aching in the songs of Sarah Blasko. Even at her happiest, her voice is tinged with melancholy. I understand she was a Christian in her youth, and her music has the sound of faith and certainty lost, the plunge into a dreamy world of beautiful sadness.

“I awake”, the first track released from her forthcoming album has the lines:

No one knows just why we’re here
Embrace the doubt and face the fear
It’s all about the inner search

There’s profundity mixed with cliche here, and I feel she delivers these lines in a tone that sounds too flippant. Yet I’m sure they come out of deep struggle, and her flippancy could be irony.

‘No-one knows just why we’re here’ is a haunting line. It’s haunting because I feel our plight is haunting. I can say, even as a committed Christian, that existence is mysterious, and that no-one knows for sure why we’re here. Faith is living with a particular answer as to why we’re here.

What does it mean to ’embrace the doubt and face the fear’? A state of doubt as the best response to uncertainty? I choose to embrace faith rather than doubt, but I understand why she would go the other way. One thing I respect in Blasko’s lyrics is a determination to face the fear, to express the mystery of existence, when too few singers ask big questions.

But to sing ‘it’s all about the inner search’ is to reduce the search for meaning to a private affair. Later in the song she adds:

I’ve tried to make this life my own
To find myself, I’ve searched alone

I came to a conviction a long time ago that the meaning of life is not found on our own – that it is found in community and in covenant. It’s an insight that needs to be freshly recovered, as our milieu’s individualism (which this song is so full of) is infectious, isolating.

I half await, half dread her new album. I’ll listen to it too many times and her beautiful sadness will get into my head.

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Boldness?

I heard a sermon today urging us to be bold like Peter and the early church.

When they saw the courage of Peter and John and realized that they were unschooled, ordinary men, they were astonished and they took note that these men had been with Jesus. (Acts 4:13)

But the preacher didn’t seem aware of the problems with boldness. Being bold in the wrong way about the wrong things is surely one of the ways evangelicals have gone most wrong. Is it really boldness the church is lacking today?

As much as the Bible calls us to boldness and courage, it calls us to meekness and gentleness. Paul seemed to be always holding the two sides in tension in his ministry and teachings, and so did Jesus.

The call to boldness has to come with the call to gentleness – and we need to have conversations and discernment about when to be each. Send out a typical congregation with the command to ‘be bold’, and the results might be unfortunate. (To be fair, this sermon was the first in a series – the content and meaning of boldness might come later.)

We were offered three pictures of boldness at the start – Braveheart, Gladiator, and the unarmed man standing in front of the tank in Tiananmen Square. I wonder which of these pictures of boldness will be foremost in congregants’ understanding?

Mark Bauerlin’s failed atheism

In the May 2012 issue of First Things, professor of English Mark Bauerlin writes of his ‘failed atheism’. It is a moving account of his teenage epiphany that there was no God, decades lived in what he now sees as a kind of impoverished skepticism, and his final tentative steps into faith.

He has truly known the terror of an empty, godless universe:

Every night in bed I foresaw my pending nonexistence and trembled. I shut my eyes and the walls closed in. That I was destined to join the nothingness that I spied in the bush was an intolerable prospect, an unthinkable thought. My mind was stuck on eternal death—”I can’t believe it, I can’t believe it, this can’t be happening.” The discovery didn’t free me, it crushed me. The universe was open, but my life was closed. Others might take the disappearance of God as liberating, a chance to forge their own future, but not me. Whatever plan I might commence, whatever identity I might pursue, it shrank to pointlessness beside the yardstick of boundless nothingness.

The telling of his journey to Catholic faith is abbreviated, but he writes this:

The Catechism introduced to me “ways of coming to know God” that involve study and discipline, not a sudden revelation. The idea that faith might not be an instantaneous perception, that God’s presence or absence rests upon more than a blunt apprehension, struck me as a dilating prospect. God is out there,
and the Church is the way to him. If I haven’t apprehended him directly and overwhelmingly, as I did the Nothing of that not-burning bush when I was a bright and confused teenager, that’s the fault of my limited powers of perception, not because there is nothing there to perceive.

Reading it was, for me, a refreshing antidote to the stories I know so well of friends who have moved the other way.