Ascending and descending love in rock music...

In early December, my band will be performing for a short seminar at Berkshire Community College as part of my presentation of "a spirituality of rock music." As I work to streamline and synthesize my spoken comments, one idea that is taking root has to do with eros and agape. One is an ascending spirituality - longing and personal - while the other is a descending encounter with the spirit - sharing and communal.

They have sometimes been called opponents: eros is carnal and unsatisfied while agape is spiritual and nourishing - eros is inferior and human while agape is elevated and sublime - eros encourages selfishness while agape builds authentic, holy community. But there is a growing chorus - from Pope Benedict VI to ethicist James Nelson - who oppose this dualistic segregation. Rather, they suggest, that both forms of love are true and noble and both share something of God's healing grace. I think the Sufi poet, Rumi, understood this, too, and shared it in his poem, "Love Dogs."

One night a man was crying Allah! Allah!
His lips grew sweet with praising,
until a cynic said, “So!
I’ve heard you calling out, but have you ever
gotten any response?”

The man had no answer to that.
He quit praying and fell into a confused sleep.
He dreamed he saw Khidr, the guide of souls,
in a thick, green foliage.

“Why did you stop praising?” “Because
I’ve never heard anything back.”

“This longing you express
is the return message.”

The grief you cry out from
draws you toward union.
Your pure sadness
that wants help

is the secret cup.

Listen to the moan of a dog for its master.
That whining is the connection.
There are love dogs
no one knows the names of.

Give your life
to be one of them.


There is a longing - the ascending experience - and a resting - the downward encounter - and both are of God: there is need as well as sharing, a time for mourning and a time to dance. And when it comes to practicing this in a spirituality of rock music, it is precisely THIS truth - the embrace of holy/human love - that can be nourished.

To be sure, there is always a Dionysian impulse towards loss of self and even destruction in music - especially rock music. It could be Wagner or Metallica. And there is schlock and crass manipulation throughout the music industry: think most of Tin Pan Alley or Bubble Gum songs.

At the same time, however, if it is true that God's quest for our healing is so strong as to be embodied in Christ - that God is authentically present with us in suffering, shame and pain as well as joy and celebrations - in our trials and rejoicing - it is my hunch that this occurs in the rock music that integrates eros and agape.

I hear it when the Psalmist sings of God calling forth a time in Psalm 85...

Mercy and truth are met together; righteousness and peace have kissed each other. Truth shall spring out of the earth; and righteousness shall look down from heaven. Yea, the LORD shall give that which is good; and our land shall yield her increase. Righteousness shall go before him; and shall set us in the way of his steps.

Or when Christians speak of the unity of word and flesh in their lives: the integration of both the inward and outward journey of faith - putting on the fullness of Christ in spirit and truth - living into the Paschal Mystery of Jesus where we experience in our own lives the life, death and resurrection of the Lord - in all of this we are talking about the harmony of eros and agape.

+ It is playful and real
+ It is humble and holy
+ It nourishes the body and soul while building community

And it offers a prophetic critique of anything that defiles or destroys God's beauty, truth and love in creation. I'm not speaking of ALL rock music - most is rubbish or just a little fluff that is fun - but there is some that move us into that place where compassion and justice embrace and kiss: the marriage of eros and agape.

credits: ; hope by lux at deviantart; matisse30Buisson-Posters; humanshearts

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