Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Habitual Desperation

Michael W. Smith's song Breathe was somewhat popular as a worship song in circles I moved in a few years ago. In the chorus the soul sings to God, "And I...I'm desperate for you./And I.. I'm lost without you"

I won't even go into how after hearing this song once or twice in my life, I find it boring and incapable of carrying my prayer. There's something deeper that bothers me about it, something that probably did at one point stir me up enough to sing it as a worship song with some feeling.
It is very true that the soul is lost without God. It is also a common experience to feel lost when we don't feel God.

But a good worship song really should not have us rehearsing thoughts that don't build virtues. And while we need to initially identify our desperate need for God, we need to build up our faith in God's reality and presence and our hope for His action in our world, not our own experience of a need.

I've noticed this tendency within myself. I can think of my desire for God, my longing for God, my longing for God's action, my longing to see His kingdom come and His will be done, and I can find myself in this mode: "I------ I'm desperate for you......" It's all about my tremendous feeling of need. Now, I'm not anti-emotion (although I do favor rational thinking). Emotions are good, and our sense of need for God is very good. But it's not all about me. At some point I really need to move off my experience of my desire and look at the God who has inspired that desire. We don't really take our desires seriously if we do not recognize that the God who puts them there is present to fulfill them. Oh, it won't be instantaneously, and it probably won't even a be painless and wonderful process. But we long for God because He causes that. And if we don't shut up about our desires, and turn to look upon the God we desire so He can fill us, all we are really doing is wallowing in a sensual, emotional experience. And we run the risk of walling God off in the very process of singing about our desperation for Him.

We're talking fine lines here.  And I think this is one of the limitations of modern "worship music." I firmly believe that worship is meant to form us. This is why parish music directors need to have a pastoral sense and an evangelizing sense along with musical capacity and basic awareness of who it is s/he is serving. Good worship music allows a congregation to reach out to God and to experience Him drawing them to Himself. There needs to be that exchange, facilitated at least. And if we spend 10-15 minutes simply meditating on our own habit of feeling desperate without ever looking up to see the God who fulfills our need, we are becoming deformed, not formed.

May 12, 2014

A post-script:
St. John of the Cross writes in the Ascent of Mount Carmel: "Though the intention of these persons is directed to God, the effect they receive is recreation of the senses, from which they obtain weakness and imperfection more than the quickening of their will and its surrender to God." (III, 24 [4])

This seems straight to the point I was trying to make about how worship music sometimes runs the risk of being "recreation of the senses," but it also reminds me to bring out my main point in this that I realized what I had written earlier really failed to do. I do not mean by "recreation" in this case the enjoyment of the melody of this particular song (or of any). What I means is the perverted pleasure one can feel in the comfort of being stuck in desperation. I'm sure someone has a word for this. Maybe if I keep reading St. John I'll find his. But it has to do with coming to a certain spiritual plateau that one recognizes as such -- a leveling off place in traveling where there is still higher ground somewhere -- but getting content to stay right there and simply keep asking for help that one no longer believes is really forth-coming. 

To keep with this recreation, the will is weakened -- the will to look for a way out of that plateau.

I know it is not our wills that make things happen, apart from the grace of God working on and through that will. And yet there is that moment I've experienced many times -- maybe it is exactly the grace of God activating my will -- where suddenly I *really* want something, and the skids are greased and what has remained immobile moves.

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