Monday, May 31, 2010

Steve Winwood and the Blessed Trinity

Isn't it refreshing when we stumble on a song that gets us pondering the deeper questions? (and a snappy rhythm doesn't hurt either) Enter today's Twisted Mystic, Steve Winwood, with the very popular hit "Higher Love" from 1986.

Think about it
there must be higher love
down in the heart or hidden in the stars above.
Without it, life is wasted time
Look inside your heart
I'll look inside mine.

Now there's some good advice; introspection and exploration! Look within the heart and without to the universe. Funny that this is the very method thatPope John Paul II employs when he undergoes his mammoth teaching known as the Theology of the Body. It's called "phenomenological personalism" (impress your friends with that one). Essentially phenomenology looks at our human experiences - what attracts our hearts, what repulses them, what draws us through this life, forever chasing the Good, the True, and the Beautiful.

Steve Winwood (pictured above with guitar seraphim Eric Clapton) asks a very phenomenologically inspired question - "What fuels us in our relationships? What drives us to be more?" It must be, he supposes, a higher love. To this insight, any self-respectin' Christian would respond "amen." And this Higher Love has a Name... The Most High!

Facing our fear and standing out there alone.
A yearning and it's real to me
There must be someone who's feeling for me.

Yes, "somewhere out there, beneath the pale moonlight," someone IS thinking of you, and loving you tonight! This higher love is in fact real to me too, and I've tasted it even in my human relationships. Don't we talk of our love as being something bigger than just us, something we "fall into?" Well, it's more so something we are drawn up into. The Catechism tells us that "God is an eternal exchange of love, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, and He has destined us to share in that exchange." (CCC 221)

The feast of the Holy Trinity that we just celebrated reminds us of this glorious reality, and our ultimate destiny. Did Mr. Winwood have an inkling of this? Well, who knows, but he's not called a Twisted Mystic for nothing! Listen to this almost mystical prayer from the 80's pop star:

I could light the night up with my soul on fire
I could make the sun shine from pure desire.
Let me feel that love come over me
Let me feel how strong it could be!
Bring me a higher love!

So the next time you're in the supermarket, or put on hold while trying to pay your cell phone bill, and this classic tune comes on, just use it as a chance for prayer. As Bamidbar Rabba once said, "Entrances to holiness are everywhere. The possibility of ascent is all the time. Even at unlikely times and through unlikely places."

Look inside your heart
I'll look inside mine.

Sunday, May 30, 2010

Dance with Me

So often it seems there are two opposing images of God and Life that stand in the ballroom of this world. And they don't dance well together. Life wants to boogie, and God (we think) wants to sit with folded hands on the sidelines. 

While we're making our moves through Life, jumping "to the beat of the rhythm of the Night", and "everybody working for the weekend," God seems like the garish light of Day. 

"OK, party's over. Get ready for Church!" 

In this vision, God is the Debbie Downer, the wet blanket that smothers any spark of passion we find on the dance floor of Life. We have here the dynamic of pleasure versus puritanism. If it feels good, there must be something sinful in it. If it's boring, dull, uptight, it must be the morally right thing to do. But what if both extremes are faulty steps in the dance?

Years ago, during my discernment in the seminary, I remember giving talks to high school students, and they would always ask questions like this: "Can you go to parties? Can you work out? Can you listen to music? Can you drink beer?" It was apparent that their vision of seminary, or of being "religious", involved walking around with candles, chanting in Latin, and generally looking like liver and onions was for dinner... again.

But is this vision of the "Divine as dull" accurate? Is faith boring? Is God's dream for us one of gloom and misery, penance and pain. Are we allowed to "enjoy" this world, this life, or must we somehow seek to bypass it for the Kingdom to come? Why did He create us after all? What is our purpose? 

It seems that the desire to dance runs deep... to lose ourselves in something bigger than ourselves, to find ecstasy (which means literally to stand outside of ourselves). What do we do with this desire? It's universal, it must mean something.

"The fact remains that we are invited to forget ourselves on purpose, cast our awful solemnity to the wind, and join in the general Dance."
- Thomas Merton

Who is God? As the song goes (and ironically I'm not a huge fan of this song) God is the "Lord of the Dance." God's deepest identity in fact is not the lonely Old Man watching to see if you keep the rules, but He is the Dance. What does the Church really teach about God? "God Himself is an eternal exchange of love, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, and He has destined us to share in that exchange." (CCC 221) Whoa.... ponder that one. Eternal giving and receiving, Eternal Love! Isn't that what our hearts really want? Wouldn't that be ecstasy? This is God's deepest identity! He is an ecstatic, eternal communion of life-giving Love! He is a Trinity! And this Blessed Trinity is Who we celebrate today!

The Old Testament book of Proverbs from today's first reading sings "When the Lord established the heavens I was there... and I was his delight day by day, playing before him all the while, playing on the surface of his earth; and I found delight in the human race."

It's time for some revisionist thinking on just Who God is, and on just what kind of Dance we're invited into. Who's giving these blurred and stilted images of God to us anyway but those who are only "dancing with myself" as Billy Idol once piped? That sounds boring to me. So let's cut loose, and get footloose in a manner of speaking. As Augustine once said, "Love God, then do what you will!" Let's dance in the Love and Light of this incredible God today, in the Great Dance of Eternal Love. 

And a word of advice from personal experience; Let Him lead.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

What's Love Got to Do With It?

You must understand
That the touch of your hand
Makes my pulse react
That it's only the thrill
Of boy meeting girl
Opposites attract

It's physical
Only logical
You must try to ignore
That it means more than that...

What's love got to do with it? A good question to pose in our "hook up" culture where sex has been torn from the seemless garment of its original meaning. In the light of the Theology of the Body, Love's got everything to do with it! To say otherwise is like tearing the notes from the music, the blue from the sky, or the light from the sun! Love is so essential to human relationships that they aren't really human relationships without it! 

In Pope John Paul II's early work Love and Responsibility, he taught us that feelings and attractions are good and integral in our relating, but still form merely the "raw material of love." The spark that lights the fire. But if we stay only at this base level of attraction (where the "touch of your hand makes my pulse react"), we can actually begin a disintegration of the person before us, rather than the integration that love aspires to. Once pleasure becomes the only purpose for coming together, then the person is lost. It's called utilitarianism - you are an object essentially for me, and I for you. But "will you still love me tomorrow?" Well, the person isn't even loving you today!

Oh whats love got to do, got to do with it
What's love but a second hand emotion
What's love got to do, got to do with it
Who needs a heart
When a heart can be broken

This is classic Twisted Mystics material! In photo negative fashion Miss Tina has given us the true image of love! Simply take what she says and flip it on its head! The heart is in fact made to be broken. That's the very definition of love! The closed inward looking self, the cocoon of the heart must break out into the winged gift of love for the other person. It must step out and into others, not grasp and drag others into itself. The caterpillar consumes earth, the butterfly is consumed by the heavens.

I've been taking on a new direction
But I have to say
I've been thinking about my own protection
It scares me to feel this way


Scared? Welcome to the real world - the world where love is a possibility and the potential for everyone. It is scary because in love the heart must become transparent, vulnerable, and dare I say OPEN to the light of day. So many today engage in "protected" sex.... but let's stop and ask "What are we protecting ourselves from?" It may start at STD's and unwanted pregnancies, but press in further. Is it fear of commitment, fear of love? Now why would we fear love? 

Like our first parents Adam and Eve, we want to run and hide from the sacrifice of love, the radical trust that love asks of us. But in the words of Pope John Paul II, were invited to "not be afraid...." of anything. Love is not just a "sweet old-fashioned notion" then is it, Miss Tina? It is "ancient and ever new".... but that's another Song altogether, isn't it?