I’m teaching Biblical Interpretation this semester, and as part of the course am walking the students through the different genres of literature in the Scriptures. Last week we talked a little bit about poetry. As I shared with them some of my thoughts about the value of such word art, I was reminded how deeply attuned I feel to the non-prosaic. How much such forms of communication are able to express in such beautiful ways. When it comes to books of the Bible, for instance, Jeremiah and the Psalms just speak to my soul.
Most of the time, my love of the poetic finds the fulfillment of its affection in the world of music. There, well-written lyrics together with intriguing melodies have the ability to transform and transport me. Songs that trade in mystery and paint with the brush of wonder and emotion are my lot. Most of the time, the more straightforward their words, the less meaningful.
Three artists that exemplify what I mean:
- U2: Anyone who knows me is aware that (like many) I’ve been a fan of Bono and the boys for a long time. Their catalog is replete with words, phrases, and musical genius that can transcend the mundane. Yes, they do sing about “Sexy Boots.” But even then they’re not really talking about boots, are they? There’s a lot I could say, but for now a lyrical example from the song “Ultraviolet (Light My Way)” will suffice: “I remember/When we could sleep on stones/Now we lie together/In whispers and moans/When I was all messed up/And I had opera in my head/Your love was a light bulb/Hanging over my bed.” What does that mean? I don’t know…but I love it.
- Sufjan Stevens: He’s been around for a few years now, and like most people I first became aware of him after his 2005 album Illinois. His lyrics are dense and often rather theological, and his penchant for musical experimentation can at times yield fascinating results. To give you an idea of his style, the following are three of his catalogue that I find particularly meaningful: “To Be Alone With You“–ostensibly a song sung between two lovers that ends up being a meditation on God’s love as seen through the Atonement; “Silver and Gold“–a song from one of his Christmas albums that posits, I think, the meaninglessness of all our seeking after the riches of the world (I have since found out that he didn’t actually write this one but instead covers the Johnny Marks tune…but it is still amazing); lastly, “Casimir Pulaski Day“–a hard song to describe, except to say that it is about loss, grief, and questions for the Almighty. It is a song of faith even as it is about the way life calls it into question. For me…it may be a perfect song.
- Gungor: I know that the name sounds like a techo-dinosaur band, but Michael Gungor’s group is among the best of “Christian” music out there right now. Their recent album “Ghosts Upon the Earth” literally blew me away as they led me and fellow listeners through the music of Creation and Redemption. Listen to the opening song of the album, “Let There Be,” with a Bible opened to the first chapter of Genesis. I challenge you not to be moved by what you hear.
As a person of faith, having the gift of poetry and blessing of music is something for which I will be forever thankful.
What poetry and/or music similarly fires your soul?