Somehow, growing up, I totally missed the popular-music culture. “That’s your era, Mom,” a son will say to me. “Don’t you know who this is?”
No, I don’t know who it is. Between birthing and raising four babies, helping my husband plant an inner-city church in Chicago, taking young adults who needed a place to live into our home, and launching my own professional writer’s life, there simply wasn’t time to become an expert in pop music. Ask me about the civil-rights movement; ask me about the economics of poverty; ask me about building churches around the gifts of the laypeople or about creative worship philosophy; ask me about child-rearing theories; ask me what I read during my own young adult years (a lot); ask me about the mystical writers—I can hold my own on any of these topics. But truthfully, I wouldn’t know The White Album from Purple Rain.
Church music?—well, my father was head of the Music Department at Moody Bible Institute. It would be an understatement to say I was overexposed to sacred music. Classical music?—my husband and I have loved the world-class Chicago Symphony, and, when we have any money, have held season tickets. We enjoy the intimacy of chamber music and are supporters of the Orion Ensemble. We have profited mightily on long car-drives, listening to CD’s from The Learning Company; right now, we’re playing The History of Classical Music.
Finally, in my sixties, I am attempting to rectify my pop-music ignorance by listening to “Greatest Hits” and “Best of” albums. Recently, I’ve enjoyed Van Morrison’s Still on Top. In fact, this Sunday on the way to church, I was captivated with the seeming religious progression of his lyrics. The album begins with Gloria, Here Comes the Night,Brown-Eyed Girl, then eventually progresses to In the Garden with its amazing invocation of praise to the Trinity. What caught my attention most, however, perhaps because I have been thinking about this blog, was Stranded.
The writer is “stranded at the edge of the world,” and this is a succinct expression of the ennui so many feel caught in the “hustle and hustle” of modern life. We don’t know where we are or why, there’s no one to “give us the time of day,” and “every day, every day” we’re stranded.
All great artists, and Van Morrison’s biography seems to indicate that he is considered to be a truly great artist, voice the inner anguish and distress of our common humanity. This is one reason I need to listen to their music: What are these people saying? For whom are they speaking?
You may be one of those folks who is having trouble “just getting through the day.” If so, think about this (a thought that has been deeply medicinal to my soul during rough passages—really rough passages): There is nothing you have experienced that literally hundreds of thousands haven’t experienced before you. This thought doesn’t trivialize my anguish; instead, it comforts me. While being stranded at the edge of the world, between “the devil and the deep blue sea,” I am not alone. Others are familiar with this pain, this cessation of desire, this lostness.
Not only is there comfort in misery, but hundreds of thousands of others have found a way through the desert, through the wilderness, through the vacant lots, through the sour soil of living. Listen to the music and you will find this thread.
Morrison, on this one album, takes us through “the dark night of the soul” in Tore Down a la Rimbaud, to “can’t stand up by myself; don’t you know I need your help” in Real Real Gone, and to the lyrical moment of recovery, of finding one’s self again in The Healing Game—“Here I am again, back where I belong … back in the healing game.”
All great artists face periods when the music stops, the words go, the inner vision is blackened, the math no longer makes sense. Van “The Man” Morrison, the mystical, the magical, searching ever for “a certain quality of soul,” has known them well.
Once, at a younger time in my life, when I had exhausted myself and was real, real gone, I listened over and over, for six months, to the music of Chopin, until finally I was back in the healing game, inner-city ministry. Perhaps if you’re in one of the stranded places, at the edge, the precipice, with nowhere to go, your soul will find some peace in the music of those who know, have been there, and can sing forth that message of comfort in commonality.
We have been where you are; we have survived. Life is good again. Stay with us.
Karen Mains is the Co-Director, with her husband, Dr. David R. Mains, of Mainstay Ministries. She leads silent retreats, is a spiritual coach to thousands who have followed the Mains’ ministry through radio and television broadcasting and their writings. Karen is the award-winning author of the “Tales of the Kingdom” Trilogy, and is now crucially involved in a team that is creating a microfinance for women project in Kenya.