While I’ve Been Away
Back yesterday from two weeks’ holiday at the wonderful Torridge House (well, more like a mini-break than a fortnight away, really: we lost the first nine days of fourteen to illness – mostly the children). Here are a couple of things I noticed while we were away:
Firstly, the trivial: I bought a birthday card for my youngest nephew who will be eight tomorrow. It came with an ‘I Am 8’ badge. It came with a warning: ‘Not for children under 36 months’. So how many eight-year-olds are under 36 months, then?
Secondly, a little more profound: I read a wonderful interview with Paul Simon about his new CD Surprise in the June issue of The Word magazine. Simon, a Jew, has long reflected religious and somewhat Christian themes in his songwriting, at least in the style if not in the substance. Here are two parts of the article. It’s well worth rushing to the news stands to get a remaining copy.
The first quote goes like this:
Nearly six years ago, backstage at the Wiltern Theatre in Los Angeles, just before one of the exultant shows Simon put on in support of You’re The One, he described a spiritual awakening he had experienced that made it much easier for him to enjoy his music for its own sake and to share his audience’s pleasure in it.
“I became very aware of how grateful I was to be alive and what a blessing it was,” he said, as tears welled up in his eyes. “I had a great feeling of gratitude and awe. It was a powerful realisation, a spiritual thing. I don’t want to trivialise it by describing it when you can’t describe it.
“It loosened everything up,” he continued, “like, ‘This is a big old jingling universe, and you’re just jingling along with it.’ I had this thought that the only thing God requires from us is to enjoy life and to love. You don’t have to do anything but appreciate that you’re alive – and love. That’s the whole point. All the rest of the stuff is … You like to make music? Fine, go ahead. Make sure that if you do that, what people get from it is joy.”
My thoughts on the above: what a wonderful way into the spiritual life: gratitiude and awe. Simon’s statement that ‘the only thing God requires from us is to enjoy life and to love’ sounds rather like Ecclesiastes. And the permission to do what you like here is not self-indulgent, if a requirement of bringing joy to people is laid on following our passions.
The second quote is not at length. It’s just a part of the interview where Simon is discussing the lyrical and musical themes of Surprise.
Wartime Prayers, written during the build-up the the Iraq invasion, laments that “People hungry for the voice of God/Hear lunatics and liars” … As Surprise‘s sonic landscaper [Brian] Eno – along with engineer Tchad Blake – helped Simon discover sounds that evoke the simultaneous sense of apocalyptic peril and spiritual possibility.
A brief observation or two: I’m an evangelical, I am ‘hungry for the voice of God’. But how easy for that hunger to become desperation or a desire for the spectacular. One of the ways in which Christians fall for dangerous false prophecy is because it appeals not only to the ego but also to the desire to be part of something ‘significant’. We often can’t cope with the ordinariness of life, and the spiritual life.
And then that lovely idea of holding together both apocalyptic peril and spiritual possibility: if only we could do that in a positive sense rather than the Left Behind-style nonsense. Instead of playing on people’s fears or ourselves retreating due to fear, what if our response was full of hope and grace? What might that mean? It’s too late in the evening for me to explore that now, so I leave the thought hanging …